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Norman PETERKIN (1886-1982)
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano)
Adrian Farmer (piano)
rec. July and October 2016, Concert Hall of the Nimbus Foundation, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth
Texts included
LYRITA SRCD.362 [68:53]

Norman Peterkin’s name sits on the outer fringes of the British song repertoire. He tends to be mentioned in the context of a sequence of other seldom-if-ever recorded composers in books devoted to the subject, something that piques interest, of course. At last we have a disc solely devoted to a sequence of twenty-six songs of his songs.

He was born in Liverpool in 1886 and took some piano and organ lessons in the course of a youth hampered by ill health. Hearing Cyril Scott’s Piano Sonata No.1 in 1909 proved a spur – Scott had been born in nearby Birkenhead – which stayed with him when he was sent to Singapore and Hong Kong as a representative of the music firm of Rushworth & Dreaper. There Eastern influence, very audible in some of the songs, permeated his musical aesthetic alongside chromaticism. His first songs were printed by Carl Engel in Boston, Mass in 1918. Back in London he mixed with Sorabji and with Hubert Foss, who brought out a number of Peterkin’s songs for OUP, alongside those of Warlock and Moeran. Peterkin soon joined OUP and enjoyed renown as a publisher, seemingly having little time for sustained composition. It’s probably as a publisher and as an encouraging of later generations of composers – Elizabeth Poston and Ronald Stevenson amongst others – that he will be best known.

The songs aren’t dated in Alastair Chisholm’s warm, affectionate notes so it’s superficially tricky to tell if any post-date his retirement from OUP in 1937 or are largely confined to the period between 1918 and taking on his onerous publishing responsibilities. The latter, at any rate, would seem the more likely.

The songs include the vogue for musical Chinoiserie and Japanese influence, Irish ballads, parlour settings, and the folkloric. There is limited evidence of Debussian influence – but there is some – and chromaticism was certainly a component of what are presumably the earlier Scott-influenced settings. The taut Five Poems from the Japanese and The Chaste Wife’s Reply allude briefly to Japanese or Chinese music as appropriate. O Men from the Fields! has a charming lilt to it whilst Little Red Hen has a complement of folklore that encourages a more pugnacious vocal contribution from Charlotte de Rothschild. The itinerant musician is brought to life in The Fiddler, though the soprano’s top notes are pitched. The undulating severity evoked in Walter de la Mare’s Never More, Sailor is deftly done. Some settings have charm but not much depth, albeit charm is he only intent, as in A Cradle Song.

De la Mare - something of a Peterkin favourite - inspires the composer to greater harmonic complexity in the impressionistically flecked Song of the Water Maiden through strangely Byron’s So, We’ll Go No More A-Roving is never touching enough. Peterkin’s best-known song, possibly his only well-known one, is I Heard a Piper Piping, a brief, chaste and delightful light song. Settings like Rune of the Burden of the Tide and The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls share more than a word in common: they draw from Peterkin a more charged intent, a more declamatory self. The Rhymers’ Club favourite, Ernest Dowson, also seems to unlock something more than the commonplace in Beata Solitudo with its twilit piano writing and love desire.

Peterkin is no lost colossus of British song – he lacks the thornier textures of an Ireland, and the more ingratiating lyricism of a Quilter, to cite merely two – but his is a quiet, minor voice. He’s a kind of Lascelles Abercrombie of British song. He’s at his best when he responds most passionately, drawing on impressionist, on chromatic models. He’s at his most anodyne when treading the threadbare post-Edwardian carpet. Charlotte de Rothschild and Adrian Farmer perform with excellent ensemble. Her soprano is sometimes pushed uncomfortably in the more strenuous settings but she characterises well, even in the silly The Bees’ Song. Despite caveats this is a worthwhile and quietly rewarding selection of songs.

Jonathan Woolf

The Fidil is Singing [2:07]
The Song of Fionula [2:58]
Five Poems from the Japanese [4:34]
All Suddenly the Wind Comes Soft [2:08]
Pierrette in Memory [1:50]
O Men from the Fields [1:37]
The Garden of Bamboos [1:13]
Advice to Girls [1:16]
Never More, Sailor [3:09]
Little Red Hen - Irish Folk Tale [3:39]
A Little Wind Came Blowing - An Irish Air [2:59]
Sleep White Love [3:46]
The Chaste Wife's Reply [2:41]
Hours of Idleness[1:54]
I Wish and I Wish [2:49]
The Song of the Secret [1:52]
The Fiddler [1:43]
If I be Living in Eirinn [2:48]
Dubbuldideery 'The Monkeys' Journey Song [4:53]
Song of the Water Maiden [1:49]
So We'll Go No More A-Roving [1:56]
I Heard a Piper Piping [1:34]
Rune of the Burden of the Tide [3:25]
The Bee's Song [2:19]
The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls [3:14]
Beata Solitudo [4:18]


Note from Chris Howell

The Fidil is Singing [2:07] 1935
The Song of Fionula [2:58] 1935
Five Poems from the Japanese [4:34] Boston 1918
All Suddenly the Wind Comes Soft [2:08] 1935
Pierrette in Memory [1:50] 1925
O Men from the Fields [1:37] Enoch c.1924
The Garden of Bamboos [1:13] my copy undated but BL says 1924
Advice to Girls [1:16] 1924
Never More, Sailor [3:09] 1925
Little Red Hen - Irish Folk Tale [3:39] 1935
A Little Wind Came Blowing - An Irish Air [2:59] 1952
Sleep White Love [3:46] c.1940
The Chaste Wife's Reply [2:41] Boston 1923
Hours of Idleness[1:54] Boston 1923
I Wish and I Wish [2:49] 1925
The Song of the Secret [1:52] 1935
The Fiddler [1:43] 1925
If I be Living in Eirinn [2:48] 1927
Dubbuldideery 'The Monkeys' Journey Song [4:53] my copy undated but BL says 1924
Song of the Water Maiden [1:49] 1925
So We'll Go No More A-Roving [1:56] 1929
I Heard a Piper Piping [1:34] 1924
Rune of the Burden of the Tide [3:25] 1925
The Bee's Song [2:19] 1940
The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls [3:14] 1943
Beata Solitudo [4:18] 1919

The BL catalogue reveals that (1) the supply of songs has not been milked dry by the Lyrita disc, though it may well have creamed off the best ones and (2) though Peterkin mainly wrote songs, there are a number of short piano pieces (not enough for a CD, by the look of it) and an even smaller number of instrumental pieces.
A curious item, which someone might slip into an anthology, are the 3 Songs for voice and viola - I have the score to one, "The Journeyman Weaver" - and it looks rather intriguing


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