A paean for Peter Warlock - ten pieces for organ by Frank Bayford,
Brian Collins, Timothy Craig Harrison, Trevor Hold, Anthony Ingle,. John
Mitchell, Ian Parrott, Betty Roe, Keith Glennie Smith and Eric Wetherell.
Thames Publishing, distributed
by William Elkin Music Services, Station Road Industrial Estate, Salhouse,
Norwich, Norfolk, NR13 6NS
In May 1999, the Peter Warlock Society promoted a concert in Great Warley
Church, Essex, built by Warlock's uncle, as part of a weekend to celebrate
the restoration of the organ there. Six of these commissioned pieces were
played on that occasion by Malcolm Rudland and four - those by Collins, Harrison,
Smith and Wetherell - have since been added. The format is typical of Thames:
A4 size, plain but clear design with laminated cover. The volume is also
a paean for the much-missed John Bishop, founder of Thames and tireless champion
of English music, who died in September 2000.
The composers were requested to write for players of average ability and
to incorporate thematic material by Warlock into their works. In most cases,
this has resulted in preludes or fantasias of varying inspiration and competence,
usually based on song melodies. The overall mood is light-hearted and eminently
approachable but although the superimposition of themes sometimes recalls
the ingenuity of Sullivan, it is disappointing that the majority were content
to walk in fairly well-trodden harmonic woods and to reminisce rather than
re-create; however, within these bounds, there is much enjoyment to be had.
Among those who have treated the organ as a solo instrument, well removed
from liturgical associations, the most extensive work here is a set of three
pieces by Anthony Ingle, including a lively fugue, although the Warlockian
directions are a little tiresome. In his Mirth and Play, John Mitchell
contrasts the three settings Warlock made of a sixteenth-century poem by
Robert Wever, and employs cheerfully uninhibited modulations to appropriate
effect. Eric Wetherell has scored a considerable success by selecting Fair
and True as the subject for another fugue: more transparent than Ingle's,
it is a delight to play, not only for some lovely false relations but also
for Wetherell's ingenuity in capitalising on the bland hymn-like quality
of the theme, thereby transmuting a work by the frequently scurrilous Warlock
into an acceptable voluntary for a weekday Victorian Evensong. The hilarious
coda, which quotes suddenly from the original, is a masterstroke, breaking
in on the sublimated harmony like a chorister's raspberry after the Magnificat.
I hope some enterprising maestro di capella will première it
on Radio 3. However, for simple unalloyed musicality and charm, Trevor Hold's
beautifully fluid Song-tune Prelude on 'Sweet-and-Twenty' stands alone
as a moving tribute from one real craftsman to another, and is well worth
the price of the entire volume.