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Peter WARLOCK (1894-1930)
‘The Curlew’** (1920-22) [22’12"]
‘Lillygay’* (1922) [6’52"]
‘Peter Warlock’s Fancy’* (1924) [2’10"]
‘Peterisms’, first set (1922) [4’20"]
‘My gostly fader’* (1918) [2’02"]
‘Bright is the ring of words’* (1918) [1’42"]
‘Saudades’* (1916-17) [7’23"]
‘The cloths of Heaven’ (1916) [2’10"]
‘The frostbound wood’* (1929) [3’10"]
‘Bethlehem Down’* (1927/1930) [4’33"]
‘Sweet and twenty’ (1924) [2’00"]
‘And wilt thou leave me thus?’* (1928) [2’03"]
‘Mr. Belloc’s Fancy’* (1921) [1’33"]
‘Peterisms’, second set (1922) [3’55"]
‘The Bachelor’ (1922) [0’50"]
‘Away to Twiver’ (1926) [1’54"]
‘Captain Stratton’s Fancy’* [1’47"]
Adrian Thompson (tenor)
*Christopher Maltman (baritone)
John Constable (piano)
**The Duke Quartet; Philippa Davis (flute); Christine Pendrill (cor anglais)
Recorded 3, 4, 11 February, 1997 at All Saint’s Church, East Finchley, London
NAXOS 8.557115 [70’28"]

The invaluable reissue by Naxos of ‘The English Song Series’, which first appeared on the Collins Classics label, continues with this volume devoted to songs by Peter Warlock. Collectors owe Naxos a real debt of gratitude for their work in rescuing these recordings from possible oblivion.

The programme presents a good, representative selection of Warlock’s output of songs. In particular, many show his great interest in English literature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The biggest work, however, sets poetry by a modern writer, W.B. Yeats. Warlock’s The Curlew, a cycle of four songs plus an instrumental interlude is a strange work indeed. The accompaniment for string quartet, flute and cor anglais is in itself unconventional but the soundworld which the work inhabits is also highly individual and the prevailing mood of melancholy is pretty much unrelieved. Many collectors will be familiar with the classic 1973 version by Ian Partridge and The Music Group of London (EMI). Frankly, I don’t think this Naxos version displaces its older rival. The contribution of the instrumental group is very fine, offering much sensitive playing. In fact, I don’t think there’s anything to choose between the two versions on this score. However, I must say that I greatly prefer the singing of Ian Partridge to that of Adrian Thompson.

Consistently, Partridge sings steadily, with even production and a steady, well-controlled tone. He is also extremely responsive to the words. Thompson too is careful with the words (though not quite as in tune with them as his rival, I think.) However, Partridge enjoys a clear advantage when it comes to the sheer sound of the voice. I find that his singing fall much more pleasingly on the ear; for my taste Thompson has far too wide a vibrato and often there is a beat in the voice which I find distracting.

Elsewhere in the recital Thompson is better, I think. For instance, I thought he was particularly sensitive in the second song of the first set of Peterisms, ‘A Sad Song’ (track 11). Unfortunately, however, in the very next song, ‘Rutterkin’, his high notes sound forced and unpleasant. I like him much more in ‘The Cloths of Heaven’ (track 18) and the fine ‘Sweet and twenty’ (track 21). In fact, as a general rule he impresses most with his quieter singing. It is when the emotional stakes are raised (or the volume) that I am less happy with the sounds he makes. This, however, is very much a matter of personal taste and not all collectors will share these reservations. My advice would be to sample a track or two before buying.

For my money the contributions of Christopher Maltman are much to be preferred. He is yet another in the long line of excellent English baritones and here he displays the sort of form which saw him deservedly awarded the Lieder prize at the 1997 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. In comparison with Adrian Thompson I find that his voice is much more evenly produced throughout its compass and his delivery sounds a good deal more natural. Crucially, in louder passages he does not sound under pressure. Overall, his is a most pleasing sound. He gives a rousing performance of ‘Peter Warlock’s Fancy’ (track 9) and is most eloquent in ‘Bright is the ring of words’ (track 14) – though I must say I don’t think this song is a patch on Vaughan Williams’ setting of the same text in his Songs of Travel. I also admired Maltman’s calm restraint in ‘The frostbound wood’ (track 19). He also sings ‘Bethlehem Down’ (track 20) very well though I believe the piece works much better in its original SATB version of 1927.

I’ve already praised the accompaniment in The Curlew. In all the other items the pianist John Constable provides sterling and most musical support to the singers.

Despite the reservations I’ve expressed about Adrian Thompson (very much a matter of personal taste, I know) I welcome the reappearance of this recital. I also warmly applaud the decision by Naxos not to skimp on documentation despite the fact that the disc sells at super budget price. Keith Anderson’s notes are succinct but perfectly serviceable. Crucially all the texts are supplied. Though both singers’ diction is excellent quite a number of the texts are far from straightforward and it is invaluable to have the texts to follow. (The documentation is in English only, however.) If Naxos can do their customers the basic courtesy of providing texts why can’t all labels follow suit?

The recorded sound is good and all in all this disc provides a most useful introduction to the songs of Peter Warlock

John Quinn

See also review by Rob Barnett


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