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John Quinn
MusicWeb International, April 2013

VENABLES I.: On the Wings of Love / Venetian Songs (English Song, Vol. 21) (A. Kennedy, Burnside) 8.572514
VENABLES, I.: Songs and Chamber Music (At Midnight) (Kennedy, Dante Quartet) SIGCD204

The standard of performance on both discs is uniformly high with Andrew Kennedy in particular proving to be an expressive and committed advocate for Ian Venables’ songs. Both discs present the music in excellent sound and Graham J Lloyd provides notes to match to accompany both releases.

If you are an admirer of Ian Venables’ music you will want both discs… © 2013 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Philip Lancaster
The British Music Society, March 2011

The last year has been one of great significance for Ian Venables; a year that has by chance coincided with his first as a full time composer. As well as seeing premiere performances at such as Wigmore Hall, it has seen three commercial recordings: a disc of songs and chamber music on Signum Records, including his String Quartet—perhaps one of Venables’s most original works; a disc of chamber music issued by Somm Records, notably including the Piano Quintet; and a disc of song on the ubiquitous Naxos label. This latter disc is the first in Naxos’s English Song Series—a series taken over from Collins Classics upon their demise—to be devoted to the work of a living composer, and it is disc with which I am concerned here.

The Naxos recording opens with the most significant work on this disc: the premiere recording of the 2005–6 song cycle for tenor, clarinet and piano, On the Wings of Love. The title of the work is an intriguing one: although it doesn’t admit so in the otherwise usefully informative CD sleeve notes, the title of the cycle is drawn from Plato’s Symposium, which, Venables writes elsewhere, examines ‘the various forms that love can take’, looking at love in its broadest sense, ‘not just in the realm of human affection’. The one overarching theme, however, is the constancy of love. In whatever form it takes, it is ever present; in place and heart; from gods to mortals.

The opening song of the cycle, ‘Ionian Song’—a setting of words by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy—somehow eptitomises Venables; it is almost a distillation of his work. The opening chord is perhaps one of Venables’s favourite: an E minor chord with added seventh and minor ninth that seems to open the vault of existential questioning. The lamenting figurations in the piano and clarinet are dominated by the interval of a minor third, which, although common in music, Venables appears to fashion into a unique thumbprint. Through this accompaniment the voice poses its long lyric narrative, beginning low in the register and gradually ascending to the light upper voice. The clarinet writing in this song—a perfect counterpoint to the voice and piano, here, as in the rest of the cycle—seems redolent of Herbert Howells’s intense lyrical clarinet sonata.

The outer sections of the second song, a setting of a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, pick up on its opening lines: ‘The moon sails out / the church bells die away’. Far from dying away, the clarinet, piano and voice all take on the turning figure of the bells, constantly intertwining, the sound of the bells seeming to live on in he memory. The sound of bells continue into the third song, a setting of Jean de Sponde’s ‘Sonnet XI’, in which we find the heart of the cycle. This bell-like tone illustrates the timelessness o the cycle, which aspires to eternity in its conception and breadth, and in its universality of theme. Here and in its concluding songs we find Venables contemplating not only love, but time and death. There is an intensity to the writing—as in much of Venable’s work—that is at danger of self-consuming its thinker, echoing the self-consumption spoken of by de Sponde and John Clare, as set in Venable’s Invite to Eternity. It is a passionate intensity that has deep, dark undercurrents that in a lesser hand could smack of self-indulgence but which here perhaps belies a loneliness that appears at odds with the notion of love. Venables is searching for and asking such rare intensity that one cannot help but be drawn into his work.

The set of Venetian Songs, Love’s Voice, has been previously recorded by Nathan vale fro Somm Records. It continues the theme of love, but in a more overt way, retaining the same passionate intensity of On the Wings of Love, although not without a hint of irony: set in Venice—what is traditionally a city of romance—the cycle tells of unrequited love. One might have hoped—as so often on CDs—for a longer gap between the two works: the gap between the cycles is the same as between the songs. They should be taken in independently, so programme your CD player accordingly.

The opening song, ‘Fortunate Isles’, seems to contradict John Donne’s famous dictum, ‘No man is an island’. The piano depicts the having oceans that divide one isle from another, while the singer expresses the seeming hopelessness of willing to love: it will happen to another, but not to me. This sense of isolation is perhaps subconsciously echoed in the opening motif in the vocal line, recalling the words from Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, ‘If I forget thee’.

‘Fortunate Isles’ sets the emotional landscape for the remainder of the cycle, dwelling on an encounter during one of Symonds’s numerous visits to Venice, depicted in ‘The Passing Stranger’: the poet is haunted by the image of a figure who, in a ‘fleeting glance’ from a passing gondola, awoke the ‘old sanctities of human love’. In the reverie of the third song the poet there is an emptiness, but not without a glow of hope and excitement. However, it is only at the end of the cycle that Love’s voice is finally heard, but only to admonish: it would have been better ‘toward death to glide, Soul-full of bliss, Than with long life unsatisfied, Life’s crown to miss.’

Compared with the Nathan Vale recording, the assuredness of Kennedy and Burnside’s interpretation, with the extraordinary range of expressive hues that Kennedy ahs within his voacal palate, make this preferred interpretation.

The remainder of the disc consists of individual songs, some of which are taken from opused groups, although not necessarily presented in order. These include now popular trifles such as ‘Flying Craooked’ and ‘The Hippo’, as well as more profound songs, from the contented companionship of ‘Midnight Lamentation’ to the wonderfully serene vision of September in the Malverns in the setting of Symond’s ‘At Malvern’. Whether you are coming to Venable’s work anew or are seasoned followers, this disc is one that will enthrall and capture. And at only budget price, there is nothing to stop you exploring this deeply passionate work.



Jeremy Marchant
Fanfare, March 2011

Andrew Kennedy is in fine voice, unfailingly responsive to the text and the settings, his tone constantly engaging. Iain Burnside makes the most of the accompaniment, which is never showy and always written to support the text and the vocal line. The performances from all three are clearly committed. The recording, made in Wyaston Concert Hall, is fine and texts are provided where out of copyright.




Robert A Moore
American Record Guide, March 2011

No English tenor today is more splendidly at home in this fine music than Andrew Kennedy…His voice is more robust and red-blooded…With great liveliness and energy in his singing and a broad palette of vocal color, Kennedy’s performance is both invigorating and tender. English song singing doesn’t get better than this. Iain Burnside has been the anchor for this project, and his collaboration again is exemplary. Richard Hosford, principal clarinet of the BBC Symphony, plays superbly.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Though some of Ian Venables’ music has already been recorded, I had not encountered his songs before. Love’s Voice was recorded by Kevin Maclean-Mair and Graham Lloyd on the Enigma label, a performance which Rob Barnett clearly enjoyed on a disc which he recommended to lovers of Moeran, Vaughan Williams, Orr or Butterworth—see review. I’m not sure if that CD is still available—it never was on general release—but the Naxos makes a fine replacement.

Andrew Kennedy is an ideal interpreter of Ian Venables’ music, which he sings as if to the manner born. He has already recorded some of the songs, including The Hippo and At Midnight, on the Signum label (SIGCD204), so there is a small degree of overlap. Kennedy has also recorded Songs of Eternity and Sorrow, coupled with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge and Ivor Gurney’s Ludlow and Teme on Signum SIGCD112 and other songs, including Flying Crooked and A Kiss, on a CD mainly of Ivor Gurney on Somm SOMM057, so you would have some 14 minutes of overlap if you already owned all those earlier recordings.

I must express my thanks at this point to Mr Siva Soke of Somm recordings for pointing out that his label actually beat both Signum and Naxos to the post in recognising Ian Venables’ talent with a recording of the complete Love’s Voice, Vitæ summa brevis, Flying crooked, At Midnight and The Hippo in 2006. (Nathan Vale and Paul Plummer, SOMMCD063). My oversight is all the more culpable because we reviewed that recording very favourably here on Musicweb International—see reviews by Jonathan Woolf—here—and Colin Scott-Sutherland, who thought ‘the whole quite ravishingly beautiful’—here. The typically enterprising Somm recording overlaps some 27 minutes of the new recording. The coupling, appropriately, is of music by Gurney, Ireland and Finzi.

Kennedy’s Signum recording of Wenlock Edge is particularly fine, offering a very strong challenge to existing recommendations, perhaps even supplanting them. I’ve recommended it in my November 2010 Download Roundup—here. I’d be inclined to go for that recording first, then for the new CD, which opens with the longest work, On the Wings of Love (trs.1-5) a cycle of five songs setting the words of authors as diverse as the Emperor Hadrian (in translation) and W B Yeats. The first song, Ionian Song, is dramatic at times but predominantly wistful and lyrical. It won me over immediately to Venables’ style, for which it sets the tone, and its successor, The Moon Sails out (words by Lorca) did even more to convince me.

By the end of the cycle I was fully persuaded that Venables possesses a major talent, clearly influenced by such predecessors as Finzi and Vaughan Williams—it’s no mere coincidence that Andrew Kennedy’s earlier advocacy of his music was coupled with the recording of On Wenlock Edge and Ivor Gurney’s Ludlow and Teme – but with a voice of his own. That voice may not yet be as fully developed as those of his predecessors whom I have named, but it’s already not far short.

Venables also shares with Vaughan Williams and Gurney the knack of setting melancholy words in a manner which contrives to transcend any tendency to mournfulness. The words of the Emperor Hadrian in Epitaph (track 4) and Yeats in When You Are Old (track 5) are set in such a way as to avoid morbidness, as Vaughan Williams and Gurney do so successfully with the words of Housman in A Shropshire Lad, and as Peter Warlock doesn’t quite manage to do in The Curlew—though it’s a good try. Perhaps the employment of the clarinet in On the Wings of Love helps to achieve this effect—I was about to say of thoughts that lie too deep for tears, which makes me think that Venables would be just the right person to set the poems of Wilfred Owen.

I was also convinced that Andrew Kennedy is the ideal personification of Venables’ voice—I know that I’ve already said that, but it bears repeating—and that he could not have been more ably partnered than by Iain Burnside and, in the opening cycle by Richard Hosford.

The Venetian Songs which follow, four settings of the Victorian poet J A Symonds, something of a Venables speciality (tracks 6 to 9) are equally attractive. Here again Venables achieves the effect of wistful melancholy without mournfulness, even though the clarinet no longer features in the accompaniment. Perhaps the words of Symonds in Love’s Voice (track 9) best sum up the composer’s achievement:

‘Twas better thus toward death to glide,
Soul-full of bliss,
Than with long life unsatisfied
Life’s crown to miss.

The dedication of Love’s Voice to the pianist Ian Partridge reminds us that Venables is not only most adept at writing for the voice, but that the accompaniments to the songs also contain piano writing as carefully thought out as that of almost any composer that comes to mind since Schubert.

Tennyson’s Break, break, break (track 12) receives a dramatic setting that makes me hope that Venables will turn again to other parts of In Memoriam for future inspiration. Hardy, too, would seem to me to offer the prospect of grist for his muse’s mill, a view nurtured by the setting of his poem A Kiss (track 18) and further encouraged by the settings of Edward Dowson’s Vitae Summa Brevis (track 13) where the ‘weeping and laughter’ arise out of the dreamy setting and the misty accompaniment:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while…

The most melancholy poem on the CD, Midnight Lamentation (track 10) receives what is in many respects the most lyrical setting, while Flying Crooked (track 14) is sufficient to dispel the impression that everything here is in a wistful vein, though its mood is decidedly in a minority here. For Venables in rather different vein, you need to turn to the Signum On Wenlock Edge CD. The final settings on the Naxos disc, At Malvern (another Symonds setting, tr.17—though I’d have placed it last) and A Kiss (tr.18) round off a most enjoyable programme.

Most of the Naxos English Song series to date has consisted of reissues from the defunct Collins Classics label—most welcome, as they are, I’m very pleased to see that this is a new recording. That it was made in the Nimbus studio at Wyastone is almost a guarantee of its quality, and the promise is certainly fulfilled in the finished article.

The notes by Graham J Lloyd, the dedicatee of Midnight Lamentation (track 10) and Vitæ Summa Brevis (track 13), are informative and helpful, and it’s also helpful that we have all the texts except for those of tracks 12 and 14 to 16, which remain in copyright. The notes are especially good at putting into words the manner in which the settings capture the mood of the poems. I would have appreciated a few more dates of composition, however, and a slightly larger font.

I recommend this new CD strongly: all lovers of English song should purchase it at their earliest opportunity. If you can’t wait to order it and decide to download, you can access the non-copyright texts from the link at the head of this review. Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library can obtain the whole booklet there.




George Hall
BBC Music Magazine, December 2010

Performance:
Recording:

This release in Naxos’s English Song Series celebrates the art of Ian Venables, born in Liverpool in 1955, whose work is a continuation of a tradition including Gurney and Finzi among its chief 20th-century representatives. Neither so searching nor as original in terms of its musical language as Britten or Tippett, let alone more recent figures, more importantly Venables manages to create worthwhile new artefacts within his conservative idiom. Expertly crafted, the results offer something genuinely personal and at times profound. Of the two major cycles here, On the Wings of Love (2006) adds a clarinet obbligato to the statutory voice/piano partnership. Richard Hosford is exemplary here in capturing and amplifying the mood of each song, memorably so in the long, lovely introduction to the Yeats setting, ‘When you are Old’. The Venetian Songs (1995) comprise four settings of the Victorian writer John Addington Symonds, on whom Venables is as acknowledged expert, and whose At Malvern inspired Venables’s separate, haunting and indeed hypnotic 1998 song—one of the finest things here. But the clattering piano in Tennyson’s ‘Break, break, break’ (from the Op. 33 collection) and the imaginative Hardy setting A Kiss are also remarkable. Andrew Kennedy is the expressive, articulate tenor, Iain Burnside the outstanding accompanist.



John France
MusicWeb International, November 2010

Two things need to be understood when approaching the songs of Ian Venables. Firstly, his music sits fairly and squarely in the tradition of English vocal music. From the Elizabethan lutenists to Tippett by way of Finzi and Warlock, it is easy to detect influences and allusions. Venables typically writes in a largely tonal - sometimes stretched a bit - idiom that is usually both approachable and memorable. Furthermore even the briefest of glances at the list of poets that he has chosen to set, reveals many names that are a part of the English literary tradition. These include Tennyson, Hardy and Harold Monro (1879-1932). The second point is an outworking of the first. There is absolutely no way that Venables’ music is derivative or pastiche of any other composer, living or dead. This is not ‘souped-up’ Finzi or exhumed Moeran or anyone else. It would be like saying that Bach’s music was only Böhm or Buxtehude with ‘knobs on’. Venables is his own man: he writes what he pleases. At times his music is less likely to have an instant appeal but often the effect is immediate. What lies at the bottom of Ian Venables’ art is his willingness to have listened to other composers, to have absorbed their style and message and to have synthesised a new musical voice that is in their musical trajectory but is not beholden to it.

Finally, one or two characteristics that are nearly always present in Venables’ songs are a deep response to the text - frequently the poets too - and the ability to move the listener, often beyond the call of duty. Much of his music is melancholy: it is often beautiful and is always well-crafted. The present CD introduces the listener to a number of songs and cycles: some of these are well known to British music enthusiasts, but others are first recordings and are therefore valuable additions to his catalogue. I was seriously impressed by the song-cycle On the Wings of Love which is a setting for tenor, clarinet and piano of poems by a variety of non-English writers. It was composed in 2005-2006. I rely heavily on the composer’s web pages and the sleeve-notes for my comments on this work. The title of the song-cycle was taken from Plato’s Symposium which is that philosopher’s great discourse on the nature of love. Venables has attempted to explore the ‘universal theme of love in its widest possible sense and not just in the realm of human affections’. The composer chooses a number of texts from poets old and modern, and from a variety of backgrounds and countries. The first song is a setting of Constantine P. Cavafy’s ‘slippery time’ poem, ‘Ionian Song’, where he suggests that in spite of the old gods having been thrown down and their temples destroyed, they are still watching over their land. Venables has interpreted this poem in a subtly timeless manner: he has created a fine balance between a relatively ‘modernistic’ declamatory style and a heart-achingly beautiful lyricism. This song is a masterpiece. The key to the poem is the line: - ‘O Ionian land, it is you they love still.’ It is a notion that all who love Greece and the ‘classics’ have probably entertained at some time in their life. The latter part of the song paints a glorious picture of the god Apollo passing over the Arcadian Hills. The second song, ‘The Moon sails out’ is a surrealist poem by Federico Garcia Lorca that presents the poet’s reaction to an evening spent in the moonlight where the ‘comforting world of daylight has been replaced by a nocturnal world of shadows and dreams.’ The music moves at a gentle pace and has a certain questioning feel to it. The clarinet and voice interweave to create a magical nocturne. ‘Sonnet XI’ by Jean de Sponde, the sixteenth century French poet, is about love and constancy. The composer opens this song with an almost Debussian bit of impressionism. The balance between piano and clarinet is perfect. It makes me hope that one day Venables will write a clarinet concerto or sonata! The slow-paced vocal line initially complements the poet’s theme; however the middle section is more passionate with the singer reflecting on his ‘loving you, I love without regret’. The magical mood returns but not before a final outburst from the soloist announcing that ‘My fire, till I am dead, will never die.’ It is the climax of the song and of the cycle. The fourth song is by the Emperor Hadrian of ‘Wall’ fame. He ruled from AD117 to 138 and was a great soldier. However, he is known to have written a deal of poetry. Alas, there are now only fragments left. One of these is an ‘Epitaph’ that the Emperor wrote for himself. It is such a simple, yet ultimately profound, universal sentiment:-

Little Spirit,
Gentle and Wandering,
Companion and guest of the body,
In what place will you now abide,
Pale, starry and bare,
Unable as you used, to play

Venables has matched the simplicity of the poem with music that is equally straightforward. The piano accompanies a thoughtful vocal line with simple chorale-like chords. The clarinet is only heard at the opening and close of this song. Once again the listener is struck by the composer’s ability to ‘stop time’ in his music.

I was a wee bit confused by the next song. In the programme notes for this song-cycle on the Venables website, the composer mentions a setting of ‘Reluctance’ by the American poet Robert Frost. However, this has not been recorded here: I understand that this is due to copyright reasons.

The last is a setting of W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘When you are old.’ It opens with a long instrumental prelude – in fact I was beginning to wonder when the voice would enter! Once more this is a slow-paced song, designed to complement the idea of ‘When you are old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire...’

The general impression of this beautiful cycle is of stillness, reflection and a deep sense of peace, in spite of a few passionate irruptions. It is a piece that needs concentration and possibly works best in the listener’s music-room rather than in the concert hall. It brooks no distraction. It is one of Ian Venables’ greatest compositions proving that he belongs fairly and squarely in the tradition of the great English song composers.

I am particularly delighted to review the setting of John Addington Symonds’ Venetian Songs –Love’s Voice. Like many, I guess that I associated him with prose writings on the Renaissance and on Greece and Italy. However, Venables has pointed out to me a whole corpus of poetical works, many of which approach genius. In the same way as Gerald Finzi deeply identified with the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Ian Venables has made a ‘chosen identification’ with Symonds’ poetry. Graham Lloyd has written that this is ‘an empathy borne from a shared philosophical outlook on life: and a common conviction about nature and purpose of artistic endeavour.’ I recommend that the listener explore John Addington Symonds’ poetry – much of which is easily available on-line.

The first song is called ‘Fortunate Isles’. Once again, the impressionistic mood of the composer’s musical language seems to come to the fore. This song floats in the air rather like the islands on The Lagoon: there is little doubt that this poem was written about Venice and its surroundings - places very dear to the poet’s (and composer’s) heart.

The next song is ‘The Passing Stranger’. It is quite obviously a meditation on the nature of ‘what might have been’ a notion that surely crosses our minds, especially as we get older. The song begins and ends quietly but builds to an impassioned climax for the middle lines – ‘Whereby the soul aspires to God above ...’ There is a careful use of dissonance in this setting that highlights the sense of the poet’s ‘disorientation’ and reflection.

For anyone who has taken a trip on a gondola on the canals of Venice, the third song will bring back memories. In the ‘Invitation to the gondola’ the poet evokes Venice as ‘a city seen in dreams’. It is surely one of the finest poetic descriptions of that city. Venables has taken this love poem, for love poem it is, and has created a mood and impression that mirrors the movement of the gondola and the lapping of the waters as the ‘lamp-litten’ city ‘gleams, with her towers and domes uplifted ...’

The final song, incidentally dedicated to Ian Partridge, is the eponymous ‘Love’s Voice’. The message of this poem is based around Tennyson’s ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’. Once again the topographical setting of this poem would appear to be Venice, however it is very much a universal topic that could be situated anywhere that has ‘glimmering water-ways’. The music is reflective and introverted, but is ideally suited to the dark mood of the poem.

It is good to have a recording here of Ian Venables’ early ‘Midnight Lamentation’. This delightful song was written when the composer was only nineteen years old. This deeply melancholic poem was written by the Georgian poet Harold Monro and is summed up in the near tragic final verse – ‘I cannot find a way/Through love…’ The music that Venables has written is a perfect complement to the ultimately heart-rending words. I agree with Graham Lloyd’s conclusion that this setting is a ‘powerful interpretation of a profoundly moving poem’. Future musicologists will study this song in detail to find intimations of the composer’s subsequent development as a composer; however the artistic value of this song is beyond doubt. It is an impressive essay from a teenager!

The ‘batting order’ for the four songs drawn from Venables’ Op.33 is a bit cock-eyed. Furthermore, I guess that I was a little disappointed that Naxos could not manage to squeeze in the other two songs from Op.33 which are ‘The Way Through’ (Jennifer Andrews) and ‘It Rains’ (Edward Thomas) and given them in order. However, this is nit-picking when one considers all the good things that are on this disc.

‘Break, break, break!’ is the first poem from Op.33 presented on this disc. It’s a splendid sea-piece complete with the piano accompaniment providing a musical representation of the surging of the waves. The vocal line is particularly beautiful and constantly reflects the development of the poet’s ideas. It is a requiem for broken-hearted loss, and a nostalgic reflection for what was, but can never be again.

‘The November Piano’ is a setting of a poem by Charles Bennett taken from his first volume of poetry Wintergreen which was published in 2002. Of all the songs on this disc, I found this the hardest to come to terms with. Perhaps the poetic imagery needs a little thought? It would have helped to have the words of the poem in the liner-notes; however it is still in copyright. In a programme note for this song, Graham Lloyd has written that it ‘contains all the hallmarks of the composer’s mature style: the use of long-breathed vocal lines, melisma, underpinned by a rich and complex harmonic language.’ It is a song that I need to explore further, possibly with a copy of the score.

I have always loved and appreciated Ernest Dowson’s poems 'Cynara' and ‘Vitae Summa Brevis’. It is unfortunate that he is largely forgotten except for these two masterpieces. The line 'They are not long, the days of wine and roses ...’ has become part of the popular imagination. Ian Venables has devised a straightforward strophic setting of this poem that reflects the simple but profound thought of the poem. The composer’s style in this song is similar to his early ‘Midnight Lamentation’ rather than the more advanced ‘The November Piano’. There is a feeling of resignation about the transience of life reflected in this song which echoes the artistic achievement of Gerald Finzi without in any way parodying his language.

‘The Hippo’ by Theodore Roethke is one of the loveliest little songs in the repertoire. It would be easy to dismiss this as a ‘childish’ song, yet in many ways it reflects a good attitude to ‘slowing down a bit’ in life. It may well be a good way to live...

The five remaining songs on this disc are all ‘old favourites’: it is appropriate to have another recording of them easily available. They are quite definitely ‘entry level’ to Venables’ catalogue. I would recommend that new fans of this composer begin here.

I have always treasured Robert Graves' delightful poem about the ‘haphazard’ flight of the cabbage white butterfly. I guess gardeners largely despise this ‘pest’, but since being a child I have loved to watch them in the garden. Both poem and setting are evocative of this beauty and child-like innocence. It is a remarkably short work, but contains a variety of harmonic and vocal devices that reflect the butterfly’s progress. The song has largely become Venables’ greatest hit: it was composed at the request of the late Lady Bliss.

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s beautiful poem ‘At Midnight’ is a backward glance at her past love affairs written in the form of a sonnet. For me the most moving lines are ‘I cannot say what loves have come and gone / I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.’ There is a surprising sparseness to this music that belies the romantic nature of the words. Yet there is a growing intensity that complements the sense of the poem. It is a fine example of a love poem set to music.

I have written extensively on Venables’ setting of John Addington Symond’s ‘At Malvern’: little more need be said here. However, it has been noted that the poem suggests that the poet has ‘evoked the calm and serenity of Malvern in the 1860s where little could be heard, but the sounds of nature and the distant bells of the famous priory’. I believe that this misses the point of the poem. What may seem to be a pastoral idyll is in fact a cry from the heart of a poet who is suffering from confusion, frustration and angst: it is played out against the rural backdrop of the Malvern Hills. This dichotomy is a sentiment that is well expressed by both the words and the music.

I have always hoped that Ian Venables would set Edward Thomas’s poem ‘Adlestrop’. I believe that his style and musical language would be ideal in creating a sense of stasis felt on that famous hot summer’s day. However, at the moment I have to be content with his application of this mood to Thomas Hardy’s love poem ‘A Kiss.’ The concern of this poem is to balance an ‘innocent love’ with ‘love as an eternal theme’. Venables has chosen to counterpoise a diatonic vocal melody with a relatively chromatic accompaniment. This seems to represent these two pictures of love. Interestingly, Ian Venables once told me that ‘A Kiss’ is ‘perhaps stylistically the closest I get to Finzi’. However he is adamant that any ‘aural references were not conscious ones’.

The quality of the performance by Andrew Kennedy and Iain Burnside is superb. And let us not forget the fine contribution made by the clarinettist Richard Hosford in On Wings of Love. This is an ideal presentation of Ian Venables’ music that is essential to all enthusiasts of English music in general and English lieder in particular.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2010

Now in his fifties the name of Ian Venables has still to become widely recognised among today’s British composers. This new release shows him as a vocal writer, his present catalogue listing over fifty songs, including six major song-cycles, his style having been described as ‘the spirit of music of a previous era’. It is reliant on the traditions of British song coming down a line from Gerald Finzi rather than from Benjamin Britten, the disc opening with the five songs contained in the cycle On the Wings of Love, for tenor, clarinet and piano. The poems are by non-English poets including Lorca, Emperor Hadrian and Yeats. They speak of sadness, love and old age, but there is no angst in the music, just a feeling of a quiet melancholy. Venetian Songs uses texts by John Addingtion Symonds, a writer in which Venables has become much involved. They make either direct or implied links with Venice and the beauty that exists there. The remaining tracks use words from poets of the 19th and 20th centuries, many also taken from larger groups of songs. The piano plays an important part in commenting on the words, and given time to speak on its own accord. I would want to delve into the disc rather than play its entirety, tempos and stylistic feel having much in common. They have the good fortune of performances by Andrew Kennedy whose light and lyric tenor voice has a rapt quality rapt ideal for the music. Richard Hosford, principal clarinet of the BBC Symphony, does all that is required, and, as we would expect, Iain Burnside is peerless in British music of this genre.






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