Peter POPE (1917-1991)
Heaven-Haven - The Songs of Peter Pope
If You Came [2:10]
Oystercatchers (1986) [2:46]
Three Poems of A.E. Housman; The Half-Moon Westers Low [1:45]; Bells in Tower at Evening Toll [1:45]; Sinner’s Rue [2:40]
The Ermine [2:06]
From Five Poems of Alice Meynell (1983); My Fair [2:55]; Chimes [2:09]
Five Landscapes – poems by T.S. Eliot (1984); New Hampshire [1:34]; Virginia [3:46]; Usk [1:58]; Rannoch, by Glencoe [3:26]; Cape Ann [1:31]
A.E. Housman; Last Poems (1968); Prelude ¹ [1:36]; When Green Buds Hang in the Elm [1:00]; In Valleys Green and Still [2:04]
The Tufts of Violets [6:39]
Four Poems by Alice Meynell (1977); Given not Lent [2:09]; I am the way [2:14]; The Rainy Summer [1:52] (In Portugal, 1912) [2:22]
Langenhoe Marshes [3:18]
Susan Legg (mezzo soprano)
Ann Martin-Davis (piano, and solo piano ¹)
rec. May 2010, Challow Park, Wantage
NIMBUS NI 6135 [55:49]
Peter Pope’s musical life was rather extraordinary. He was born in 1917 and studied at the R.C.M. – composition with John Ireland and R.O. Morris, and piano with Cyril Smith. In 1939 he won a scholarship to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, but the outbreak of War forced a speedy return to England, via a Spanish trawler. A Piano Quartet was well received at the Wigmore Hall, and Augeners offered to publish his work, but Pope instead joined a religious sect, staying until 1971. Writing music was forbidden during that time. Afterwards he did write music but he had been forgotten and his musical career never re-started. Pope died in 1991.
His is a still, gentle voice. He had the knack of setting unusual poems – he was clearly fond of Alice Meynell because there are two sets of her poems in this recital – and he chose some unusual Eliot (Landscapes), and poems of Housman that are usually not set, such as Bells in Tower at Evening Toll. He also liked Ruth Pitter, an astute choice. His gentle and refined setting of her If You Came sets the tone for the disc and the way he vests Pratt Green’s Oystercatchers with such fragility attests to a sure gift. Housman’s Sinner’s Rue is an example of Pope inflecting the music with a discernable folkloric hue, a ballad ethos that certainly convinces.
When he turns to Eliot’s Virginia, he is sure to give the music a definably American accent and a languorous perspective. Rannoch, by Glencoe, by contrast is spare. Cape Ann is appropriately quicker with a fierce, almost declamatory last line.
The Prelude to Housman’s Last Poems is for solo piano and here the reminiscences of his old teacher, John Ireland, are strong. Given Not Lent (Meynell) is affectionately fulsome, with celebratory bell-tolling in the left hand, perceptively realised by Ann Martin-Davis who proves throughout an admirable partner. (In Portugal, 1912) receives a fast and genuinely affirmative, exciting reading.
Throughout, Susan Legg sings with a focused, soft tone, often sparing of vibrato, and she rises to the rare pitches of drama in the music with great poise. She’s a fine, imaginative singer better known in less conventional, contemporary contexts but proving her value in these more intimate settings.
Full texts are provided. And I should also note that the songs are even more compact than the timings might suggest, as there is often as much as six or seven seconds’ silence at the end of each song. Pope emerges as a thoughtful and sensitive song composer, very much in the Ireland tradition, and it’s been good to enjoy his works in so well engineered and performed a disc as this.
Pope emerges as a thoughtful and sensitive song composer, very much in the Ireland tradition.