What is Life?

Nicholas Bosworth and Susan Moore
Nicholas Bosworth and Susan Moore

The Swallow Theatre welcomed a recital of What is Life? at the weekend.

Featuring Susan Moore, contralto, and Nicholas Bosworth on the piano, the evening’s event took a look at the musical life of Kathleen Ferrier from her winning a song class at the Carlisle Festival, up to her untimely death in 1953. Each performance in the evening was chosen to reflect episodes in her life from 1930 to 1952.

The evening began with a brief description of Ferrier’s early life, and an assurance that Susan Moore was in no way trying to emulate the wonderfully rich tone of Ferrier. She began with a traditional song, arranged by Hughes, “I know where I’m going”, followed by a Schumann Lied, “Er, der Herrlichste von Allen”. Moore’s ability to bring out the expression throughout enhanced the performance, as did the sensitive and well balanced accompaniment by Nicholas Bosworth.

As Ferrier’s story progressed we were treated to the song she sang at that Carlisle Festival (“Daisies” by Roger Quilter), an aria from Handel’s Semele - “Where’er you walk” - and a complete version of Elgar’s “Land of Hope and Glory”.

A medley of World War II songs followed, played brilliantly on the piano by Nicholas Bosworth, ably accompanied (sotto voce) by several members of the audience. The first half of the recital ended with a rendition of “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” from the Messiah.

The second half followed a similar pattern, tracing Ferrier’s life through her final few years. Items included “Flowers bring to every year” from Britten’s “Rape of Lucretia”, Gluck’s“What is life without thee?”, and a beautifully performed Brahms Leid - “Von ewiger Liebe”- followed. Bosworth then performed a medley of songs from “The Boyfriend” by Sandy Wilson. The recital ended with three items, the last of which was the one Ferrier is perhaps best known for, “Blow the wind southerly”.

The concert was a very interesting glimpse into Ferrier’s musical life, ably performed by Susan Moore, whose strong operatic voice was equally delicate where it needed to be. The accompaniments enhanced the performances with their sensitivity and brilliance.