Peter Warlock – The Curlew And Other Songs

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Warlock
The Curlew
In an Arbour Green
Autumn Twilight
Late Summer
Pretty Ring Time
A Sad Song
Mr Belloc’s Fancy
Ha’nacker Mill
The Night
My Own Country
Sleep
The First Mercy
Adam Lay Ybounden
Bethlehem Down
The Frostbound Wood
Cradle Song
My Lady is a Pretty One
Music, Where Soft Voices Die
Yarmouth Fair
The Contented Lover
And Wilt Thou?
Mourn no Moe
Jullian of Berry
Captain Stratton’s Fancy

Andrew Kennedy (tenor) & Simon Lepper (piano)

Pavão Quartet, Daniel Pailthorpe (flute) & Owen Dennis (cor anglais) [The Curlew]

Recorded 7-10 May 2006 in Potton Hall, Suffolk


Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: December 2006
CD No: LANDOR RECORDS
LAN279
Duration: 75 minutes

This recital, presents a good range of the songs of Peter Warlock (who was born as Philip Heseltine in 1894), from the gentle fading of a September day in “Autumn Twilight” to the bibulous bounciness of “Captain Stratton’s Fancy”, with the four-song-cycle “The Curlew” lying in the middle of the programme.

I am always touched by “Ha’nacker Mill” and “My Own Country” (I really must try to discover why there is an apostrophe in “Ha’nacker), and, though a teetotaller, I always enjoy hearing of the captain’s penchant for rum.

Andrew Kennedy brings a varied approach to the 27 songs. He can reduce his tone without spoiling its quality, caressing the meditative or introverted songs, like “The Night” and “The First Mercy”, the latter with some lovely quiet singing, as there is in “Bethlehem Down”, with delicate piano-playing from Simon Lepper. Kennedy manages, however, to bring strength and vigour to more boisterous numbers, such as “Mr Belloc’s Fancy”, showing himself capable of colouring his tone.

He can produce a good legato too, as can be heard in the first two stanzas of “My Own Country”, but when in the third he stresses each ‘t’ in “When I get to my own country” the result is somewhat explosive. Eliding ‘get’ and ‘to’ would have rendered the line smoother and would still enable the listener to understand the words. Other examples of slightly overstated enunciation occur: ‘Good day’ in “Yarmouth Fair” becomes almost “Good er day”. So much in this recital, though, is admirable.

Peter Dawson’s and Gerald Moore’s recording of “Captain Stratton’s Fancy” was the only Warlock song recorded during his lifetime, but in 1931, the year after Warlock’s death, the National Gramophone Society issued John Armstrong in “Chopcherry”, “Sleep” and “The Curlew”: strange that the setting of W.B. Yeats’s words should be recorded before many more immediately accessible songs. That cycle has the singer supported by flute, cor anglais (almost eerie) and string quartet. A touch of torment inflects Kennedy’s reproof of the curlew in the opening song, a piece in which the voice occupies only a short section, whereas in the brief second song the tone is one of sadness, a subtle differentiation on Kennedy’s part. The very long third song is almost ghostly, and Kennedy augments the haunting atmosphere with skilfully used head-voice in places. The final song, with voice appearing in less than half, finds the poet by the edge of ‘this desolate lake’, and one seizes on ‘desolate’ as befitting the whole poem, to which Kennedy brings great sensitivity, with fine, almost mesmerizing playing from his colleagues. (The first version of “The Curlew” that I heard was by Alexander Young on an Argo LP in the 1950s, but I should like someone to re-issue René Soames’s HMV 78s, which I have not heard.)

Despite Kennedy’s varied approach, some may regard a sequence of slow songs on tracks 10 to 19 as too unvaried, pleasing though they be both in themselves and in this performance. Nevertheless, this is an interesting selection, worthy of attention. Simon Leper does well in his assignment. Writing in 1940, Gerald Cockshott opined, “If Warlock is kind to the singer, he is often exactly the reverse to the pianist”. Lepper surmounts the obstacles and makes a valuable contribution to this superbly recorded CD, a fine partner for Andrew Kennedy. The booklet, which commendably includes the song texts, states that Simon Lepper “is building a significant programme of song and chamber music with Landor Records”. This is the first disc, but if future song recitals are as good I want to know of them (apart from Debussy).

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