The Peter Warlock Songbook


WARLOCK: The Everlasting Voices. Take, o Take These Lips Away (2 settings). Heraclitus. The Water Lily. Lullaby. The Bayley Herith the Bell Away. My Little Sweet Darling. Dedication. The Cloths of Heaven. The Singer. A Sad Song. Sleep. Autumn Twilight. Rest, Sweet Nymphs. Spring. To the Memory of a Great Singer. Consider. I Held Love’s Head. Pretty Ring Time. Robin Goodfellow. Ha’nacker Mill. The Night. The Lover’s Maze. Cradle Song. The Contented Lover. And Wilt Thou Leave Me Thus? Youth / Luci Briginshaw, sop; Eleanor Meynell, pno / Convivium Records CVID62

Peter Warlock, whose real name was Philip Heseltine, was a strange bird who wrote fairly modern music as well as a lot of modern-day versions of old English lute songs, and it is the latter which are featured in this new release.

Warlock’s muse was intermittent and, at age 36, left him completely. He spent his last days transcribing the music of British composer Cipriani Potter for the British Museum. Eight days before Christmas 1930, he locked all the doors and windows of his flat (apartment) and opened up the coal vents; the ensuing gas overcame him and he died, either accidentally or a suicide.

In a way, I think Warlock had some influence on Benjamin Britten, who also wrote modern harmonizations for old English songs, both lute songs and folk tunes. Like Britten, Warlock moved his harmony sideways rather than in a linear fashion, which straddled the divide between modern and traditional music, which didn’t please either camp very much although several recordings were made both before and after his death of some of the most popular of them.

This collection, however, focuses on some of his lesser known songs that are rarely performed or recorded. Soprano Luci Briginshaw has an absolutely lovely voice with good diction, an excellent legato and nice shading of dynamics, but she does lack a bit in interpretive qualities, singing every song in this collection in virtually the same way. Pianist Eleanor Meynell plays very nicely, but to my ears tends to underplay the unusual harmonies and doesn’t have much forward momentum.

Of the songs included here, I particularly liked his second version of Take, o Take Those Lips Away, Dedication and Consider. Because of the way she’s recorded (a bit distantly from the mic), some of Briginshaw’s words are not crystal clear, and of course the American listener has to make adjustments for the veddy British version of it, but for the most part she’s fine.

A nice little album, then, particularly for Warlock fanciers.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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