Musical Opinion

This is a most enterprising set in that it includes a goodly proportion of virtually everything that Peter Warlock (real name Philip Heseltine) wrote during his short life (1894-1930). Moreover, anyone interested in the history of recording during the 78rpm era will be intrigued to find more than one version of some titles: several of the songs, for instance, can be heard two or three from different singers, and Warlock’s principal orchestral pieces are also doubled up, as allowing us to hear his most famous work the Capriol Suite, from both Anthony Bernard and Constant Lambert, and the Serenade he dedicated to Delius on his sixtieth birthday from Lambert and John Barbirolli. Among choral pieces Corpus Christi can be heard three times, twice at the hands of Leslie Woodgate and choirs of different vintage years apart: in the earlier of the two (1936) the young Peter Pears makes a solo appearance.

The major work is Warlock’s undervalued song-cycle The Curlew for tenor and instrumental ensemble, heard in the 1952 HMV recording that replaced the very old one made just after Warlock died. René Soames is the highly sensitive singer of W.B. Yeats’s haunting lines on unrequited love, with flautist Geoffrey Gilbert, Léon Goossens playing the cor anglais part and the Aeolian Quartet all lending distinguished support under what the labels called the ‘Artistic Direction’ of composer Elizabeth Poston. This was one of that famous British Council series of recordings and makes it the more astonishing that this is its first reissue in any form. It may have been superseded since, but many will be pleased to be reminded of its qualities. Among the solo songs, Roy Henderson’s delightful accounts of eight of them have been out before, though few will surely cavil at such duplication when there are many more for our delectation. Among some really outstanding things, such as The Fox and The Frost-bound Wood from Dennis Noble, Sleep is heard from Nancy Evans and John Armstrong, although best from Parry Jones whose As ever I saw is another winner: incidentally, if you listen carefully he re-positions himself for the last verse so that when he really lets fly at the end microphone ‘blast’ is avoided. Henderson is superior in Captain Stratton’s Fancy to Peter Dawson, but both are trumped by a splendid version with orchestra by Oscar Natzke. One unique offering is the nursery jingles recorded by Cecil Cope in 1941 for the BBC Transcription Service.

Instrumentally, Warlock’s valuable editorial work is recalled by Fantasias of Purcell that revive Trio Pasquier and Griller Quartet and recordings, and there is a (much less valuable) curiosity, three of the Capriol movements for violin and piano arranged and played by Szigeti. Speaking of Capriol , Anthony Bernard’s 1952 version on HMV C4218 would have better displayed both music and conductor than the one included from 20 years earlier; and Lambert’s performances will always come up better from their RCA Victor pressings. Transfer quality varies, which is understandable considering the age of much of the material, but it is a pity that the booklet is replete with careless errors and omissions. Did nobody notice a flute in The Curlew ? And older collectors like to know the personnel involved: the Aeolian players in that work – Alfred Cave, Leonard Dight, Watson Forbes and Vivian Joseph – are names still well-remembered. All-in-all, though, this is a valuable issue and would be purchasers should not be deterred from investigating such a comprehensive celebration of the music of a man who was lightly touched by genius.

—Lyndon Jenkins