Gurney, Warlock, Quilter

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COMPOSERS: Gurney,Quilter,Warlock
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Sarah Leonard (soprano), Jonathan Veira (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano)
This, Somm’s third volume devoted to English 20th-century song, enables comparison between three of its most devoted practitioners; the tragic Ivor Gurney, traumatised and sent to asylum in 1922; the alcoholic Peter Warlock, who probably gassed himself; and Roger Quilter, a quiet, wealthy hero who helped escaping Jews in the Thirties but who suffered psychologically from society’s intolerance towards homosexuals and who was apparently blackmailed. The contrast of personality shines through in the music. Gurney is the most refined and poignant of the three, as the opening song, ‘Snow’, deftly shows. Quilter, especially in ‘A Land of Silence’ and ‘O, the month of May’, both sung here by Jonathan Veira, seems over-sentimental. Perhaps the fault rests with Veira – who generally seems too large of voice and too blustery of delivery to be ideally suited to such music – or perhaps they really are more exclusively of their own time. And Warlock is Warlock: quirky, preocuupied with pseudo-folk, though well able to turn out gems like ‘Take, O take those Lips away’. Veira’s shortcomings are counterbalanced by his partner. Nobody could describe the voice of Sarah Leonard as the most beautiful on this earth, and she sounds strained in the upper register in Gurney’s ‘Ploughman Singing’. Yet she is a singer of enormous intelligence and sensitivity, and her unpretentious manner serves these miniatures well, ending with gorgeously melancholic readings of Quilter’s ‘Now sleeps the Crimson Petal’ and ‘Love’s Philosophy’. Malcolm Martineau plays with the right illustrious restraint. Stephen Pettitt