Once in a blue moon (last night’s) you hear a piece of music that stops you completely in your tracks — in this case, preparing some food for a dinner party this evening — and you stand, helpless, listening to something so beautiful and somehow life-enhancing that you can only keep pressing Repeat (until your husband sighs loudly). Yesterday I received a package of cds in the mail, several discs I knew but didn’t have in my own collection. One of them is Kathleen Ferrier singing the Brahms Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53. I’ve heard several recordings of this over the years — Janet Baker’s, which is gorgeous; and I’m almost certain I’ve heard Anne Sophie von Otter’s version too, also heart-stoppingly lovely. And Christa Ludwig. But Ferrier’s, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Male Choir, conducted by Clemens Krauss, in December 1947, is music I could hear daily and never tire of. The tonal quality and warmth of her voice anticipate Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, I think. Which makes me wonder if LHL ever sang the Alto Rhapsody?
The English translation of the first verse, from the German of Goethe, is this:
- But who is that apart?
- His path disappears in the bushes;
- behind him the branches spring together;
- the grass stands up again;
- the wasteland engulfs him.
One in a blue moon, but the sensation will last forever.