British Music Society News

Three years ago the Divine Art label issued a much-valued CD (27808) containing the collected 78rpm recordings of music by E. J. Moeran, made between 1925 and 1942. Now there appears from the same source an equally desirable collection of recordings of Peter Warlock’s vocal, chamber and orchestral music, made between 1925 and 1951 and drawn from the collection of the late John Bishop, founder of Thames Publishing.

This 2CD compilation is not quite complete, in that one recording of the period, the first recording of The Curlew made in 1931 and sung by John Armstrong with an ensemble directed by Constant Lambert, has been omitted for lack of space: it is still available, however, elsewhere – as a download from Pristine Audio. The recordings have been digitally restored and re-mastered by Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio, and were transferred by producer Stephen Sutton, who in the comprehensive 24-page booklet included in the set, contributes some interesting information on the provenance of the recordings and the difficulties faced in transferring them.

The first CD contains orchestral and instrumental works, together with the famous 1950-52 recording of The Curlew , with René Soames and an ensemble directed by Elizabeth Poston. (Of the two soloists included in that ensemble with the Aeolian String Quartet – G. Gilbert (flute) and Leon Goossens (cor anglais) – only Goossens is named; and Poston herself is not mentioned, regrettably.) There are two complete versions for string orchestra of the Capriol Suite (recorded in 1931 and 1937, and conducted respectively by Anthony Bernard and Constant Lambert – the latter performance being rather more professionally accomplished): and a third, shortened version (three movements only – the first, second and sixth) arranged for violin and piano by Josef Szigeti and performed by him, with Nikita Magaloff, in 1936.

In addition to Capriol , there are two versions of the Serenade for string orchestra, recorded c .1928 and in 1937 by John Barbirolli and Constant Lambert respectively (the former conducting with typically expressive warmth and encouraging much soon-to-be-unfashionable portamenti, the latter – recording this piece on the same day as his Capriol – insisting on typically more precise intonation). The CD is completed with performances of two of Warlock’s transcriptions – at the time ground-breaking, though now quite outdated – of Purcell’s Fantasias for viols: here the Pasquier Trio play Fantasia No.3 in G minor, and the Griller String Quartet play what appears to be a transcription (up a tone) of the Fantasia No.12 in D minor, labeled in this instance as No.9.

The second CD is devoted to vocal and choral works – some thirty-five items, of which thirty are solo songs. Among the five choral pieces, there are three versions of Corpus Christi : from c .1927, 1936 (with the young Peter Pears as one of the two soloists) and 1950 – the latter performance conducted by Leslie Woodgate, perhaps the most technically accomplished of the three, though not necessarily the most atmospheric. Of the solo songs, the two largest groups are those contributed by tenor Parry Jones and baritone Roy Henderson, who perform six and eight songs respectively. Of their partners, only Henderson’s are named: Eric Gritton (not Griffen, as printed here) and Gerald Moore. Also prominently featured among the singers is baritone John Goss, who was both good friend and colleague of Warlock and Moeran, and contributes one drinking song – The Toper’s Song, sung in partnership with his Cathedral Male Voice Quartet – and four of Warlock’s arrangements of Elizabethan lute songs, sung here with lutenist Diana Poulton. (Only one of the Elizabethan songs’ original composers, Ferrabosco, is named – and only in the booklet notes.)

Prominent among the tracks are three versions of what is perhaps Warlock’s most famous song, Sleep – only one version of which, despite booklet-notes writer Giles Davis’s clear assertion that there are two here, is sung by John Armstrong – with the International String Quartet; and two versions of The Fox , Warlock’s last original song and one of his most bleakly effective. Among other soloists not yet named, both Nancy Evans and Dennis Noble make memorable contributions – all with Gerald Moore – and bass Oscar Natzke concludes the CD with one of the most delightful offerings of all: a spirited rendering, with orchestral accompaniment, of Captain Stratton’s Fancy.

This new CD compilation, sponsored financially by the Peter Warlock Society, does not entirely replace the Society’s earlier compilation, issued on cassette tape in 1994 on the Ensemble label, of Warlock recordings made between 1931 and 1970 – an anthology also compiled from John Bishop’s collection. For while there is some overlap between the two releases, the new one is both more extensive and more complete in its coverage of a shorter period, and represents therefore essential listening for all devoted Warlock enthusiasts, given especially the quality of its transfers. All the performances are certainly ‘of their time’, and these recordings retain their value as documents of artistic achievement and undoubted historical importance; but for one reviewer at least there is no doubt that, judging by the evidence on offer, more recent first-class performances of this repertoire lose nothing in comparison.

—John Talbot