Those looking for a corpus of early recordings of Peter Warlock’s music – that’s to say on 78s – will find their wishes granted with this double CD release. The great names associated with the repertoire are here: Constant Lambert included, for the Serenade and Capriol , and then the roster of vocal artists and pianists; Peter Dawson, John Goss, Parry Jones, John Armstrong, Dennis Noble, and Roy Henderson. Fashions change in these matters but it’s still a wholly worthwhile thing to experience these recordings that derive from the collection of John Bishop, who did so much not only for Warlock himself, but for British music in its widest sphere.
The discs are divided broadly into chamber/instrumental and vocal/choral, with a disc devoted to each. Warlock was rude about that pioneering spirit Anthony Bernard, whose London Chamber Orchestra discs were in many cases premiere efforts. Bernard is lusty and quick with Capriol and it’s not so easy to track down a copy of this 1931 Decca – a label that was itself in its pioneering stages and did much to promote song. We can contrast Bernard with Constant Lambert’s traversal of Capriol , where the latter sports a smaller, more incisive band, and where themes are shaped just that much more felicitously. We also have the well-known Szigeti performance of his arrangement of Capriol , with Nikita Magaloff. At around the same time the fiddle player recorded his Elgar arrangements, so was on something of an Anglo kick. Barbirolli’s Serenade for Strings was recorded with the NGS Chamber Orchestra for Vocalion in 1928. JB unleashes his portamento-legato lyricism with a vengeance in this obviously Delian opus. Once again comparison can be made with Lambert whose less obviously affectionate reading is possibly over-determined to diminish the Delius cadences.
The Columbia recording of the Purcell-Warlock Fantasie is played by the Pasquier Trio. Rather a noisy copy, this, but what marvellously evocative string tone, how expressively wrought is this performance. The Pasquier made a sheaf of elevated recordings at around this time, none without merit. Another example of hyphenated Purcell-Warlock comes post-War via the Griller Quartet.
The first disc ends with The Curlew in a performance made for HMV in 1950 by René Soames, Leon Goossens and the Aeolian Quartet (one side was re-taken in 1952). Soames was an estimable artist and his collaboration with the leading oboist of the day and a truly first rate quartet leads to predictably admirable results. As with so many of his generation Soames’s diction is not compromised by the expressive nuances embedded in his singing. The remainder of the vocal items are a roll-call of the great and good. Dawson’s open Australian vowels offer plenty of roister in Captain Stratton’s Fancy. John Goss was the singer most closely allied to the Warlock muse. Here we have the famous sequence of songs recorded in 1928 – as well as the Goss/Cathedral Male Voice Choir from 1925. Flow not fast, ye fountains sounds too high for him and Diana Poulton’s lute must have been difficult to balance in early electrical days and was clangily over-recorded. Still, plenty of spirit emerges and Goss makes his presence felt in the ghostly Corpus Christi with The English Singers.
John Armstrong was another important exponent of the songs. His Sleep and Chop Cherry are impressive if one accepts the rather intrusive vibrato. Parry Jones was a better singer, as these things go, with a wide repertoire. He was a more artful singer than Armstrong as their respective recordings of Sleep demonstrate. The second recording of Corpus Christi is with the thoroughly professional BBC Chorus – with Ann Wood and Peter Pears. Leslie Woodgate was the exacting conductor, as he was in 1950 when The Festival Singers – with Soames and Flora Nielsen – sang it for HMV. Both these two performances are splendid.
Let me praise the Six Nursery Jingles which were recorded by the London Transcription Service in around 1941. Baritone Cecil Cope was on hand and as with so many of these transcription discs the repertoire is obscure and the recording very good. There is a sequence of songs by the gentlemanly Roy Henderson. Six of these are on Dutton CDLX7038. The pianist here is Eric Gritton, whose name is misspelled in the booklet. Whilst we’re on such matters I think the unidentified pianist on the 1950 HMV of The First Mercy was Gerald Moore. This was sung by a splendid boy soprano, Master Billy Neeley. Another mild curio is the fresh sound of the Truro County Girls’ School Choir singing Rest Sweet Nymphs in 1946. Nancy Evans was another front-liner enlisted with Gerald Moore to produce three songs over two sides. Dennis Noble unleashes his strong dramatic powers in a couple of songs, including The Fox . Another Antipodean bookends this second disc: Oscar Natzke reprises Captain Stratton , this time ‘with orchestral accompaniment’ for Parlophone.
As Divine Art’s notes admit there is a ‘missing’ 78 item – a recording of The Curlew by John Armstrong with the International String Quartet, which you can find elsewhere. But there are other items that, unless my powers are failing me, were recorded on 78 but are not included. Nancy Evans for instance recorded A Prayer to St Anthony of Padua on Decca K866 coupled with Rest Sweet Nymphs . Gerald Moore was the pianist. This last song was also recorded by Stevens and Foss on Decca M490. A Prayer was also recorded by the pairing of Runge and Parrott (Ian, that is) on Parlophone 51 where they also gave us Sick Heart . Rather more obscure is The Birds (to Belloc’s words) sung by a Primary School choir on GC3676.
The transfers are first class and so is the documentation, negligible typos aside. The discography and the notes are in conflict about who accompanied Roy Henderson in Captain Stratton’s Fancy. The discography is right; it was Gritton. This generous-spirited production hits all the right notes and the corpus of recordings it contains will enlighten, stimulate and encourage Warlockians for a good, long time.