Throughout much of the first half of the previous century, entertainer Harry Lauder was, in the words of Winston Churchill, ‘Scotland’s greatest ever ambassador!’ In the following years, Scotland’s next ‘greatest ever ambassador’ (if not Sean Connery!) must have been Kenneth McKellar, who was born in 1927, the son of a grocer, in the Scottish town of Paisley.
From 1959–60, he recorded a series of Handel arias for Decca, with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. Some were issued on an EP and later the entire collection was issued on an LP. In 1961, he went into the recording studios, again with Boult, for more Handel, this time with the LSO and Chorus, to sing the tenor part in ‘Messiah‘ alongside Joan Sutherland, Grace Bumbry and David Ward.
Collected here are all the arias from the first record, supplemented with additional arias from ‘Messiah’. ‘Thy rebuke … Behold and see’ was recorded during the ‘Messiah’ sessions as an alternative take to the soprano version (Joan Sutherland eventually sang it in the complete recording) and never issued on LP (it first appeared as an appendix to the Decca Eloquence reissue of this complete Boult ‘Messiah’).
McKellar died, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in 2010, while visiting his daughter Jane in the United States. He is buried in Paisley. It is gratifying that his artistry is being rediscovered by a new generation of listeners.
GEORG FRIEDRICH HANDEL
Serse: Frondi tenere … Ombra mai fu*
Acis and Galatea: Love in her eyes sits playing*
Tolomeo, Rè d’Egitto: Silent worship (Did you not hear my lady)*
Jephtha: Deeper and deeper still … Waft her, angels*
Semele: Where’er you walk*
Thanks to my brethren … How vain is man*
My Arms! Against this Gorgias … Sound an alarm*
Comfort ye … Ev’ry valley*
All they that see him … He trusted in God**
Thy rebuke hath broken his heart … Behold and see**
He was cut off … But thou didst not leave**
Unto which of the angels … Let all the angels of God**
He that dwelleth in heaven … Thou shalt break them**
Then shall be brought to pass … O Death, where is thy sting? … But thanks be to God**
Kenneth McKellar, tenor
London Symphony Chorus; London Symphony Orchestra**
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden*
Recording Producers: Christopher Raeburn, Erik Smith (1–8); James Walker (9–14)
Balance Engineers: Peter Attwood, Kenneth Wilkinson (1–8); Kenneth Wilkinson (9–14)
Recording Location: Kingsway Hall, London, UK, November 1959 (1, 3, 5, 8), May 1960 (2, 4, 6, 7), May/August 1961 (9–14)