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Kathleen Ferrier’s death from breast cancer while still in her prime at the age of 41 in 1953 robbed British music of one of its most vivacious talents. Beloved by both her fellow musicians and an adoring public, she earned an uncommon tribute from Bruno Walter, who declared: ‘The greatest thing in music in my life has been to have known Kathleen Ferrier and Gustav Mahler – in that order!’

Anticipating the centenary of her birth in April next year, comes this revised and expanded paperback edition of letters and diaries, which first appeared in 2003. With around 90 or so previously unpublished letters added, the volume now boasts more than 400 missives in all from Ferrier herself and various professional and personal acquaintances. New here is a chapter on her relationship with an increasingly appreciative (if also commensurately demanding) BBC; new diary entries that include previously omitted recital programme details; and enlarged introductions by Fifield.

What vividly emerges is a portrait of a woman whose life was infused by an almost palpable delight in her own good fortune, who treated her public image and status as a star with deliciously wicked self-deprecation, and whose friendships were characterised by loyalty, warmth and a generosity of more than spirit – many are the letters that herald the despatch of money (and, in the ration- starved, post-war era, parcels of meat) homewards to loved ones. What leaps out of virtually every letter is an image of an altogether captivating woman with no airs and graces, brimming and bubbling with an infectious enthusiasm for life.

Particularly poignant are the letters from the fated final months, when Ferrier displayed indomitable Yorkshire backbone in the face of debilitating illness, and in which the affection she displayed towards others was returned in obvious abundance.

Christopher Fifield edits the domestic and professional material with informed sensitivity, discretely offering clarification or context when necessary. There will be few better – or truer – tributes to this still much-missed singer in the months ahead than this.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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