Philip Heseltine, also known as Peter Warlock, was not the only composer to suffer from a bi-polar disorder – think of Schumann – but he was an extreme case. Devout Christian and devotee of the occult, pub hearty and sensitive introvert, scabrous controversialist and serious scholar… he certainly explored the parameters of human behaviour. His death, probably by his own hand, was deplored because, if his talent was a small and narrow one, it was also a true one. This set gathers up almost all of the 78rpm discs painstakingly assembled by John Bishop – the only item missing is the NGS recording of The Curlew , which as been on CD at least twice,
We start with Anthony Bernard’s 1931 Decca Capriol Suite with his London Chamber Orchestra, vigorous but a bit rough and rhythmically suspect. With Barbirolli’s 1928 NGS disc of the Serenade we encounter a different class of string playing, beautifully terraced and tapered. Szigeti’s 1936 Columbia of Capriol convinces neither as violinism nor as a transcription, a rare misfire by this artist. Lambert’s Serenade is typically unsentimental but I prefer Barbirolli. Better is the companion 1937 HMV of Capriol , getting the balance of sturdiness and lyricism right. Two Purcell Fantasies by the Trio Pasquier and the Grillers are each superb in their individual ways. René Soames sings sensitively and clearly in The Curlew from 1950 and 1952, with Geoffrey Gilbert, Leon Goossens and the Aeolian Quartet. At the time it was the best version but was soon overtaken by Alexander Young et al , who etched the song in stronger colours.
Disc 2 starts with Peter Dawson’s enjoyable, well enunciated but slightly subdued Captain Stratton’s Fancy . Six tracks featuring John Goss do not add greatly to my joy; his voice is mediocre and the lute playing on the four Elizabethan song arrangements is such as to make Beckmesser sound like Bream. His colleague on the pioneering version of Corpus Christi are a little wobbly. John Armstrong’s interpretations of Sleep and Chop Cherry with the International String Quartet are more enjoyable; and Parry Jones, nicely accompanied by W.T. Best, is suitable dramatic in The Fox , excellent in Sleep , Take o take those lips away, Sweet and Kind and The Passionate Shepherd , and at his peak in As ever I saw , one of his most spontaneous achievements. A second Corpus Christi , conducted by Leslie Woodgate, has the young Peter Pears in his first recording – very nice, as is the ‘flip side’, A Cornish Christmas Carol . Cecil Cope is delightful in Six Nursery Jingles .
With eight songs by Roy Henderson, we find a singer fully in command of his material and wholly devoted to putting it across. Whether in the throwaway Milkmaids , the extrovert Captain Stratton’s Fancy , the strong sentiment of My Own Country or the delicacy of Piggesnie , Henderson is the complete stylist. Nancy Evans’s rather ‘straight’ tone is best heard in Sleep , which she delivers with great feeling. After a girls’ school choir in Rest Sweet Nymphs and a touching account of The First Mercy by Master Billy Neeley, we get another very good Woodgate Corpus Christi , with Flora Nielsen and Soames. Dennis Noble’s admirably ‘forward’ production and crystal-clear enunciation are ideal for The Fox but The Frostbound Wood is even finer, very affecting. Oscar Natzke’s really rollicking Captain Stratton’s fancy with orchestra is a ripe and round record to end with.
The 22-page booklet looks comprehensive at a casual glance but reveals regrettable and avoidable flaws. ** One fact is worth two or three embarrassingly dubious opinions but here the ration is reversed and guff quotient in the annotations rises too high for my taste. No authors of texts are listed, although some such as Bruce Blunt were Warlock’s friends, and no composers except Purcell are given for the arrangements. Gilbert’s name is omitted, along with those of string ensemble members. Eric Gritton, one of Henderson’s partners, is called ‘Griffen’ and Best is described as ‘anonymous piano accompaniment’ – his playing is anything but that. Transfers are generally good, although I have heard better versions of some items and a few discs are worn. The set is recommended, despite its flaws, for its omnium gatherum qualities.
** [we regret the mis-spelling of Eric Gritton’s name in the booklet – purely the fault of divine art and not the note-writers, due to transcribing from a blurred label and not double-checking. The other ‘flaws’ noted by Potter (but note other reviews found the notes excellent) are also our repsonsibility. As to the opinions expressed by the note-writers – these are opinions and thus subjective, whether Mr Potter agrees with them or not.]