PETER WARLOCK: The Collected 78rpm Recordings = Capriol Suite, Serenade for Strings, The Curlew, 35 Songs etc. – 2 CDs

by | Jan 13, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

PETER WARLOCK: The Collected 78rpm Recordings = Capriol Suite; Serenade for Strings; The Curlew; 35 Songs; PURCELL (arr. Warlock): Fantaisie No. 3; Four Part Fantasia No. 9 – Conductors: Anthony Bernard/Constant Lambert/ Sir John Barbirolli/Joseph Szigeti, violin/Nikita Magaloff, piano/Griller String Quartet/The Pasquier Trio/The Aeolian String Quartet/Leon Goossens, English horn = Singers: Rene Soames, tenor/Roy Henderson, baritone/John Goss, baritone/Peter Dawson, bass/Dennis Noble, baritone/John Armstrong, baritone/Parry Jones, tenor/Ann Wood, contralto/Cecil Cope, baritone/Nancy Evans, contralto/Flora Nielsen, contralto/Oscar Natzke, bass/Master Billy Neeley, boy soprano/Gerald Moore, piano/BBC Chorus/Truro County Girls’ School Choir/The English Singers

Divine Art ddh27811 (2 CDs), 65:52; 78:15 [www.divine-art.co.uk] ****:


Peter Warlock, also known as Philip Heseltine (1894-1930), was a man of vast and often contradictory obsessions: the first scholarly editor of early English music, he engaged in bouts of alcoholic depression, the occult, obscene limericks, and (akin to fellow bohemian Percy Grainger) a penchant for rough sex. An atavistic figure, Warlock often represented an Elizabethan dandy, well out of his time; but his transcriptions and harmonic ventures into worlds competitive with Bartok, Grainger, Berkeley, and Lambert made him a creative artist well ahead of his time. Equally fascinated musically with Delius and from the literary perspective with D.H. Lawrence, Warlock often took to music criticism as a way of balancing his inter-disciplinary drives, and he campaigned actively against other music critics he suspected of inferior or sham credentials. A frequent sufferer of depression–possibly bi-polar temperament–he died under suspicious circumstances by gas poisoning in his Chelsea flat 17 December 1930, a possible suicide.

The Divine Art collation contains recordings made 1925-1952, representing Warlock as an occasional orchestral colorist whose main contribution lay in the art song, given his especially keen ear for powerful lyrics by fine poets.  Anthony Bernard leads the London Chamber Orchestra (24 March 1931) in one of three inscriptions of the Capriol Suite, this the most perfunctory. The Constant Lambert reading of the Serenade for Strings (3 April 1937) generates a confident optimism and taut sense of line, despite some glib phrasing.

The Capriol Suite from the same sessions proves richly idiomatic, given Lambert’s great capacity for balletic figures. John Barbirolli conducts the Serenade for Strings (1928) with the NGS Chamber Orchestra, a sentimental tribute to Delius, affectionately rendered by way of antiquated portamenti. Eminent violinist Joseph Szigeti plays (6 March 1936) an aggressive, even raspy version of the Capriol Suite in abbreviated form, with understated support from son-in-law Nikita Magaloff. The Pasquier Trio realization of Purcell dates from 1935 in rather crackly sound. Austere, the piece conveys a stateliness we might encounter at a party given by Sir Thomas More. The Griller Quartet (20 June 1947) render the Four Part Fantasia No. 9, grave, chromatically lyrical, processional. Leon Goossens’ English horn and the viola of the Aeolian String quartet set the world-weary tone for The Curlew (27 March and 12 April 1950), a cycle of five Yeats poems of 1922, in which the Curlew represents the spirit of unrequited love. A detached pathos results from Soames’ limited vibrato, especially in “I had a beautiful friend,” whose unearthly dolorous atmosphere owes debts to Poe and the French Symbolists.

The second disc devotes itself to Warlock’s songs and occasional choral works; and gifted singers like John Goss and Dennis Noble appear, as well as the great accompanist Gerald Moore. Peter Dawson opens (4 September 1927) with a sea-shanty, “Captain Stratton’s Fancy,” with its salute to Henry Morgan. Roy Henderson reprises the song (16 December 1943) with even clearer diction, with piano accompaniment from Eric Griffen. Bass Oscar Natzke lends his version (1939) with orchestra, a real music-hall treat. “Oh Good Ale” is a drinking song, energetically given by John Goss and the Cathedral Male Voice Quartet (17 March 1925). A lute accompaniment by Diana Poulton assists the Goss reading of “Flow not fast, ye fountains” (13 January 1928), with its Renaissance archaism. Three more songs from this session, of which “There is a garden in her face” insists on “cherry ripe,” a typical “carpe diem” conceit.

The first choral song is “Corpus Christi” (1927) with The English Singers, the motet harmonies often dissonant and modal. Ann Wood and Peter Pears reprise this song (24 June 1936) with the sighing effects of the BBC Chorus led by Leslie Woodgate. And once more, this close kin to Debussy’s third Nocturne finds HMV inscription via Flora Nielsen and Rene Soames (31 March 1950) again with Leslie Woodgate. The BBC Chorus give us the a cappella A Cornish Christmas Carol (24 June 1936), with its cues from The First Noel. “Rest Sweet Nymphs” (27 June 1946), recorded just after WW II, offers some consolation by way of the Truro County Girls’ School Choir.  Parry Jones gives us “The Fox” (5 September 1934), whose mask and eyes have mortal implications.  Dennis Noble and Gerald Moore take this song more quickly (5 April 1951) but no less eerily. Baritone John Armstrong (March 1931) intones the affecting “Sleep” with the International String Quartet. Parry Jones offers the “sweet deceiving” of “Sleep” (5 September 1934) with piano accompaniment. Nancy Evans and Gerald Moore (10 June 1943) beckon “Sleep” once more, lulling and whispering that joys abide. A special moment resides in “The First Mercy” (20 June 1950), intoned by boy soprano Billy Neeley, with its rocking-cradle piano accompaniment. Baritone Roy Henderson, teacher of contralto Kathleen Ferrier, delivers eight Warlock Songs, recorded 1941 and 1943, a half-nasal head tone and restricted vibrato producing a richly hued diction. “Sigh no more” with Gerald Moore masks a cavalier conceit behind a consolation for a forsaken maiden.

Given the range of the recordings, the high quality of the restorations by Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio, and the accompanying booklet and pictures, the Peter Warlock collector is bound to consult this set often with consistently rewarding results. The inevitable omissions of great Warlock performances can be made up on other labels, all listed on various audiophile and historical websites.

–Gary Lemco

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