Peter Warlock (1894-1930) is probably best known for his Capriol Suite, The Curlew song cycle, or perhaps some of his boisterous drinking songs, but he wrote over 120 songs, as well as numerous choral pieces and works for voice and chamber ensembles. Warlock is in fact a pseudonym – his real name was Philip Heseltine, by which name he had a reasonably successful career as a writer and music critic. The pseudonym was perhaps to distance himself from his critical writings and save his own music from the acidic scrutiny he gave to others. Not formally trained as a musician, Delius became a mentor, although his own music moved away from his mentor’s impressionistic style, towards a mix of folk and Elizabethan influences.
Soprano Luci Briginshaw and pianist Eleanor Meynell have got together to record a significant selection of his songs – 28 in all for their new CD, the Peter Warlock Songbook. As with the Albéniz disc above, the songs are presented chronologically, but perhaps because they only span 13 years or so, the trajectory of development is not as marked. In fact, there is a remarkably coherent style evident, from his unique mix of early and folk influences, combined with daring use of chromaticism and crunching harmonies. Briginshaw’s bright tone is well suited to the direct communication of many of the songs, yet she can also conjure up the frequent moments of wistful melancholy. Warlock is fond of lilting triple times (in more than half the songs here), from the tender My little sweet darling, with its nod back to Byrd, to Rest, sweet nymphs, in which the simple melody is disturbed by a mildly crunchy piano accompaniment, the opening The Everlasting Voices, with peeling piano and a mournful melody, and the darkly swinging Cradle Song. The early music influences are there in Lullaby, with its steady walking accompaniment, and the Dowland-esque Sleep, despite its unexpected, sliding harmonies. Briginshaw delivers the expressive melodies with soft tones, yet she also gives occasional more passionate outbursts full weight. Often, Warlock’s piano parts provide chromatic edge but remain in the background, allowing the simple melodic lines to take centre stage. Meynell understands this and doesn’t force the dark undertones through the texture. Yet when Warlock writes more virtuosic piano parts, such as in the passionate and watery Dedication, the playfully chirruping Spring and the highly virtuosic, rippling Consider, her playing shines through, making her restraint elsewhere all the more impressive. Highlights of the collection for me include the darkly sombre A Sad Song, with its lilting (again in three) but shifting harmonies and ranging melodic line, and the mysterious Autumn Twilight’swinding accompaniment, with some captivating quiet singing from Briginshaw, also showing impressive control when Warlock challenges with final high sustained notes, such as in the darkly chanting The Night and And wilt thou leave me thus? All in all, an impressive display, showcasing another side to Warlock, as well as this talented duo.