Summer Music Highlights
Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge – The Final Season
After twelve years of celebrating English Song this glorious summer festival has sadly come to an end. The inspiration and driving force behind the festival was its founder, Jennie McGregor-Smith. Since 2004, Tardebigge’s ‘Celebrating English Song’ series became well-established as one of the finest song festivals in the country. Over the years it attracted many of the country’s leading singers and musicians. Jennie McGregor-Smith’s commitment to programming new music led to a number of important commissions and premieres, including in 2005 an arrangement for piano and tenor by Graham.J Lloyd of Ian Venables’ ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’. For this last season Ian Venables was ‘Composer in Residence’.
The first recital was given on the 26th June by the award winning baritone, Benjamin Appl and acclaimed pianist Simon Lepper. Their recital included a performance of three of the composer’s songs from his cycle, The Pine Bough’s Past Music Op. 39.
Writing for the Birmingham Post Richard Bratby said, “Then came a sequence of songs by Ivor Gurney intersperced with songs by Ian Venables on the subject of -or setting poems by – Gurney. It worked well: Venables’ plangent melodies elegantly setting off Gurney’s restless little tone-poems of longing and loss”. Before the recital Ian Venables gave a talk, entitled ‘Finzi on Art Song: a 21st Century Composer’s View’.
The second concert was given on the 17th by Susan Bickley (mezzo) Lousie Williams (viola) and Iain Burnside (piano). Their recital included a performance of the composer’s song Acton Burnell for voice, viola and piano.
The festival concluded on the 28th August with a memorable recital given by Roderick Williams and Susie Allan. “English song doesn’t get better that this” was a comment from a member of the audience. Their programme spanned the whole of 20th century and featured songs from some of England’s greatest song composers, including Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Gurney, Ireland Quilter, Warlock, Moeran, Finzi, Britten. As the only living composer on the programme, Ian Venables was represented by two of his best known songs, A Kiss and Flying Crooked. Ian Venables also gave a pre-concert talk entitled, ‘The Art of Song Writing: a Life’s Work’.
30th June first performance of ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’
“The latest offering from Ian Venables has surpassed even his own amazingly high benchmark” – Birmingham Post
The Royal Grammar School, Worcester hosted the premiere of Ian Venables’ new song cycle Through These Pale Cold Days. This five movement song cycle for tenor, viola and piano, written in commemoration of the 1st WW was commissioned by the Limoges Trust. The work is dedicated to Worcestershire Regiment and the old boy of RGS who gave their lives in the Great War. The premiere was given in the context of a special concert held to mark on the centenary of Battle of the Somme. The performers were, Nick Pritchard (tenor), Louise Williams (viola) and Benjamin Frith (piano).
Writing in the Birmingham Post Christopher Morley said, “communication has always been one of the strong points of Venables’ music, direct, unfussy, and somehow cutting directly to the heart. Here an abundance of telling melodic devices combines with harmonic anger and subtle commentary, all conveyed over a merciless tread, now martial, now the beating of a fragile heart, which underpins the unstoppable and unspeakable horror of what our soldiers faced a century ago. Venables’ pen was grim and ironic in Wilfred Owen’s “The Send-Off”, laconically grief-stricken in Francis St Vincent Morris’ “Procrastination”, numbing in Isaac Rosenberg’s “Through the Pale Cold Days”, desperately extrovert in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches”, leading directly into the chilled visionariness of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy’s “If You Forget”.
Song – ‘The Send Off’ – Audio Extract
BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’ – Monday 27th June
Ian Venables was a special guest on Sean Rafferty’s programme ‘In Tune’. Sean discussed with the the composer his new song cycle ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’ ahead of its premiere on the 30th June. The programme also featured an on air performance of the first two songs from the cycle – settings of Wilfred Owen and Francis St Vincent Morris. They were performed by Nick Pritchard (tenor), Louise Williams (viola) and Benjamin Frith (piano).
The programme will be available for the next three week on the BBC’s iplayer and can be heard by accessing the following link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07h6dz2
30th June – World Premiere of ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’ Op.46
A cycle of 1st WW settings for tenor, viola and piano given by
Nick Pritchard (tenor), Louise Williams (viola) and Benjamin Frith (piano)
Ian Venables with The Mayor of Worcester, Paul Denham.
The Royal Grammar School, Worcester is the setting for the premiere of Ian Venables’ 1st WW commemorative song cycle. Commissioned by The Limoges Trust for the City of Worcester this new work will form the centerpiece of a recital given by Nick Pritchard, Louise Williams and Benjamin Frith on the eve of the Battle of the Somme.
Booking for this special concert has now opened and tickets can be obtained from the school’s reception. Tel no: 01905 613391.
In a programme note about the work the composer has written, “Once I had decided upon the cycle’s instrumentation for voice, viola and piano, the usually enjoyable task of finding suitable texts began. I say, usually enjoyable, because the more war poetry I read the more I realised how challenging writing such a work might be. The main difficulty is that the vast majority of war poetry is so starkly realistic and uncompromising. Perhaps, this is why there have been few WW1 poems set to music. It is for this reason I began to question whether setting such words to music might be an affront to the poetry itself. Fortunately, these thoughts were soon dispelled when I found a number of poems that dealt with ‘themes’ that might have resonance for a contemporary audience – one that is looking back on an event that has now passed into history. These ‘themes’ touch upon the universality of loss, love, and personal identity and so lifts the poetry out of the arena of war and brings it within the compass of personal experience.
A performance of the composer’s Three Pieces for Violin and Piano
given by Midori Komachi and Simon Callaghan.
The Ivor Gurney Society Spring Weekend Event held in Churchdown, Gloucestershire was the venue for a performance of the composer’s Three Pieces for Violin and Piano OP.11. Midori Komachi (violin) and Simon Callaghan (piano) gave a memorable recital that included the premiere of Ivor Gurney’s Violin Sonata in F (slow movement)
The Paris Premiere of the composer’s Piano Sonata Op.1 given by Patrick Hemmerlé
On the 26th April acclaimed French pianist Patrick Hemmerlé gave the Paris premiere of the composer’s early piano sonata. The performance took place at the Concours Festival of modern piano music.
Michael Bywater on Ian Venables at 60 – the Englishness of an English Composer
“… Britain’s greatest living composer of art songs…” Musical Opinion.
“… a true heir to Britten, to Finzi, Gurney, Vaughan Williams and other masters of the art of setting the English language to music in the last century…” Editorial, Musical Opinion.
“… If there is such a thing as English Music, then Ian Venables is its foremost living master. And if you listen to his work, you will hear with your own ears that there is such a thing. Yes, that is begging the question. But the answer is as clear and eloquent as his music, and we are lucky to have him among us…” Michael Bywater.
To read Michael Bywater’s article please go to: http://www.musicalopinion.com
BBC VOCAL DISC OF THE MONTH – THE SONG OF THE SEVERN – SIGNUM RECORDS
Ian Venables deserves, and receives, fine performances says George Hall
The latest BBC Magazine has awarded Signum Records recent CD release of Ian Venables’ songs, vocal disc of the month. The review entitled ‘The Spirit of the Cotswolds’ is by George Hall. Here are a few choice quotes. “The music of Ian Venables is extraordinary”.
“… settings of Hardy’s A Kiss, Tennyson’s Break, break ,break, and Gurney’s Soft Rain – are superb…” “They find in Roderick William a deeply sympathetic interpreter, who lavished as much attention on the words as the notes. Graham J Lloyd is the technically adroit, musically sensitive accompanist, while the Carducci String Quartet – involved in several individual songs, as well as the above – mentioned cycle – are exemplary in their interpretations…”
‘The Song of the Severn’ – CD Review by Andrew Achenbach
“… sharply memorable music of bewitching lyricism, idiomatic grace and rapt instinct…”
Andrew Achenbach writing in this month’s Gramophone said…”we also get a sequence of nine exquisite songs… each of which demonstrate Venables’s unfailing ability to illuminate the text, indisputable flair for melody and impeccable craftsmanship…”
“No lover of the early – 20th- century English art song… tradition should fail to investigate this notable issue…”
” …With The Song of the Severn, … Venables has penned an immortal work of genius. These five songs … are absolutely stunning in their poignant beauty, their profoundly noble and moving sense of tragedy and desolation that never turns sentimental or lachrymose, and their perfect union of text and music to a level that rivals Schubert and Mahler…”
A NEW SIGNUM CD RECORDING – THE SONG OF THE SEVERN
Song cycles and Songs performed by Roderick Williams, The Carducci String Quartet, and pianist Graham.J Lloyd
“Convincing and Yearning” – Andrew Clements, The Guardian
“Ian Venables’ music is unashamedly rooted in the English pastoral tradition. With their gently arcing diatonic melodies, spiced by the occasional passing dissonance, and meticulous attention to the detail of every word of the English poetry they use…”
Ian Venables’ reputation as ‘one of the finest song composers of his generation’ (BBC Music Magazine) finds voice in this disc of premiere recordings of two of his substantial song cycles. International baritone, Roderick Williams is joined by the Carducci String Quartet and pianist Graham J Lloyd in ‘The Song of the Severn’, a celebration of Venables’ home county of Worcestershire, and ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’, a poignant tribute to the poetic talents of Ivor Gurney. Other songs include those with solo piano and arrangements by Graham J Lloyd, for string quartet. Each work highlights Venables’ gift of being able to take poetry to a higher level of appreciation and at the same time create works of lasting beauty.
THIS CD IS NOW AVAILABLE – PLEASE CLICK HERE
A Lunchtime recital
with the Senar Duo at St James’ Church, Sussex Gardens, London
Thursday 22nd October
This exciting young duo gave a passionate a performance of the composer’s early Three Pieces for Violin and Piano Op.11
This concert was kindly promoted by Archery Promotions
‘Within a Dream’ – A recital of English Song to celebrate Ian Venables’ 60th birthday with Michael Lampard (baritone) and Patrick Hemmerle (piano) held at the Royal Grammar School, Worcester Sunday, 23rd August.
“…Lampard’s delivery was gripping and imaginative”. “throughout this recital the pianism of Patrick Hemmerle was first rate”. John Quinn’s review for ‘Seen and Heard’
The acclaimed Australian baritone Michael Lampard was joined by award winning French pianist, Patrick Hemmerle in an all English programme of song. The centerpiece of their programme was a rare opportunity to hear a complete performance of Elgar’s Sea Pictures. This memorable concert also featured songs by Ian Venables as well as the premiere of ‘In a Parlor Containing a Table’, text by Galway Kinnell, written especially for Michael Lampard. Their recital also included a fine group of songs by the composer Mary Taylor to poems by Edward Thomas. “…One of the highlights of the entire programme was Lampard’s lovely account of Midnight Lamentation; he sang this eloquent song with great feeling, deploying a seamless legato”. John Quinn
‘The Moon Sails Out’ – A New EM RECORDS CD
“… the sense of purpose and sureness of line in Ian Venables’s music is pure oxygen.”
“… At Malvern is lifted clean out of routine English pastoral territory by its haunting melody and poised accompaniment.” Malcolm Hayes, BBC Music Magazine
“But the gem of this release has to be the selection of works by Ian Venables, his language instantly gripping, his message genuinely catching the heart”
Christopher Morley, The Birmingham Post. (Please click here for the full review)
“Ian Venables is a poet-craftsman who writes in a sincere and impressive lyrical style”.
Rob Barnett, Musicweb-International. (Please click here for the full review)
“Ian Venables, like Gurney, has not only made song a central part of his output but has also composed chamber works of equal beauty and intensity. As well as the early ‘Elegy’ and the later ‘Poem’ the other three works featured on this disc are transcriptions of two of his most evocative songs and a rhapsodic paraphrase of the song, The Moon Sails Out“.
To purchase this CD please click the following link The Moon Sails Out – EM RECORDS CD
On July 25th this year Ian Venables will celebrate his 60th birthday. This milestone in the composer’s life provides an opportunity to take stock and reflect on what has been achieved over some forty years of composition. In the field of art-song, an assessment of his significant contribution was recently made by the musicologist, Roderic Dunnett. His detailed study of the composer’s art-songs, was published in the Finzi Friends 2014 annual journal. He wrote,
“If there are several composers who have sought to revive or reinvigorate or at least contribute to the tradition, the outstanding figure in this field, one who has made the regeneration of the early twentieth-century song tradition his metier and raison d’être, and who is supreme in the field of English song composition, is Ian Venables”
(For the full text of his article please click The Music of Ian Venables by Roderic Dunnett)
British Music Festival – Birmingham Conservatoire
Sunday 14th June – Tuesday 16th June
The Birmingham Conservatoire’s British music Festival gets underway with a rare opportunity to hear three British piano concertos performed by Mark Bebbinton with The Innovation Chamber Ensemble (strings from the CBSO) conducted by Richard Jenkinson. The three concerto works on the programme are by Gordon Jacob, Malcolm Williamson and Doreen Carwithen.
The concert starts at 3 pm.
The festival continues on Monday and Tuesday with the showcasing of contrasting works by Bridge, Bowen, Ireland, Furguson, Howells, Robert Matthew-Walker and Ian Venables. For further details please see the EVENTS page.
The London English Song Festival – Wednesday 10th June
With Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Scott (clarinet) and festival director William Vann (piano). This concert Includes a performance of ‘Ionian Song’ from the composer’ song cycle, On the Wings of Love Op.38. (Please visit EVENTS for further details)
A New YouTube Recording by Suzanne Leslie
Continuing her brilliant cycle of performances of the composer’s piano music, Suzanne Leslie has now recorded for Youtube Caprice Op.35. (Please click HERE).
The Gloucester Music Society’s – English Chamber Music Day
Saturday 18th April, St Mary de Lode Church, Gloucester
with the Goldfield Ensemble
Review by Christopher Morley in the Birmingham Post
“Gloucester Music Society celebrated the end of its 85th anniversary season with a blockbuster double-bill of English chamber music, with afternoon and evening concerts on April 18th, the hardworking Goldfield Ensemble taking us through works by Howells, Bliss, Rubbra, Ireland and Ian Venables.
Ian Venables speaking at the GMS
But then came balm, with Ian Venables’ poignant little Canzonetta for clarinet and string quartet.During its short length this treasurable piece moves from poignant desolation through lilting melancholy surely redolent of Brahms Clarinet Quintet to an ending of tintinnabulatory celebration.The Goldfield’s, featuring the fabulously-controlled clarinettism (new word)? of Vicky Wright did it proud”.
A New CD recordings on EM Records and Signum Records
This year will see the release of two new CDs featuring the composer’s music. The first (to be released in May), presents all Venables’ music written for ‘cello and piano and includes the premiere recording of The Moon Sails Out Op.42, as well as arrangements of two of his songs It Rains Op.33a and At Malvern Op.24a. This EM Records recording was made at the CBSO centre last November by Richard Jenkinson (‘cello) and Benjamin Frith (piano). For further information and details about how to subscribe please click the following link
The second CD is a recording of Ian Venables’ song cycles and other songs for baritone, string quartet and piano. The centre-piece of this disc is the premiere recording of his chamber song cycle, The Song of the Severn Op.43. This work was commissioned by the Malvern Concert Club with funds by the Kay Trust in 2012. The disc also includes, the song cycle, The Pine Boughs Past Music Op.39 (commissioned by the Gloucester Music Society) as well as arrangements by Graham J.Lloyd of four of his songs for string quartet. The performers on this Signum Records CD are, Roderick Williams (baritone), The Carducci String Quartet and Graham J.Lloyd (piano). This recording will be released in July.
Other Events This Year
Other important events this year include the Australian Premiere of The Song of the Severn Op.43 by the exciting young baritone, Michael Lampard (See EVENTS ), the 4th UK performance of the composer’s Canzonetta Op.44 for clarinet and string quartet by the Goldfield Ensemble, a performance of Ionian Song Op.38 no 1 for voice, clarinet and piano at this year’s London English Song Festival ( June 10th), and a 60th birthday concert at Leighton House in the autumn. (Further details to follow)
A New Publication from Novello and Co
Ian Venables’ Three Pieces for Violin and Piano Op.11
The reviewer, David Jennings writing for MusicWeb International said of this work, “The Three Pieces for Violin and Piano are quite early Venables, yet must rank amongst his most attractive works in any genre. They are immediately appealing, yet also reward repeated listening. It seems that Venables’ move to Worcestershire, with its strong Elgarian associations, made a profound impression on him (and) this can be heard in the Pastorale….
The … Romance, is astonishingly fine and is music of heartfelt simplicity. This must rank amongst the most beautiful pieces for violin and piano, and not just from this country. There is a powerful feeling here that time has stood still. The Dance that follows is a perfect foil for the other movements….The engaging subsidiary idea of Venables’ Dance … is as fine as any melody I have heard from this composer. The Three Pieces are truly masterly and deserve to take their place in the standard repertoire”.
To purchase these pieces please click the following link:
A CD recording of the Three Violin Pieces Op 11, performed by Roger Coull and Graham J. Lloyd, is now available on the SOMM label (SOMMCD 0101) The title of this disc is “Ian Venables – Piano Quintet Op.27” (it includes a recording of the three pieces for violin and Piano)
To purchase this CD please go to (MUSIC STORE )
Birmingham Post’s Classical Music Highlights of 2014
At the end of December last year the writer and musicologist Christopher Morley singled out the premiere of Ian Venables’ Canzonetta Op.44 for clarinet and string quartet as one of his musical highlights of 2014. Writing for the Birmingham Post he said:
“Other premieres I particularly enjoyed included Ian Venables’ Canzonetta for clarinet and string quartet, capturing the essence of the lyrical relationship between these instruments, and a work which brings at last a complement to the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets. Soloist Timothy Orpen collaborated with the Cavaleri String Quartet in this joint commission celebrating anniversaries of Bromsgrove Concerts and Droitwich Concert Club, and dedicated to the memory of Huw Ceredig, Droitwich chairman and longtime CBSO principal percussionist.
Premiere CD Recording of ‘The Song of the Severn’ and ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ For Signum Records (12th/13th December 2014) at St Michael’s Church Summertown, Oxford.
St Michael’s Church in Oxford was the venue for Ian Venables’ latest CD recording on Signum Records that features premiere recordings of two of the composer’s most important song-cycles. The acclaimed baritone Roderick Williams, together with the Carducci String Quartet and pianist Graham. J. Lloyd, committed to disc the large-scale chamber song cycle, The Song of the Severn Op.43. This work was commissioned in 2012 by the Malvern Concert Club in association with the Kay Trust. Most of the first day’s recording was devoted to this work but the session concluded with four songs for baritone and string quartet arranged by Graham Lloyd. The second day began with The Pine Boughs Past Music Op.39. This song cycle, for baritone and piano was commissioned by the Gloucester Music Society and is the composer’s homage to Ivor Gurney. The day closed with a recording of five songs for Baritone and piano. The CD was produced by Adrian Peacock and engineered by Mike Hatch and will be released in July 2015.
EM Records –Recording Sessions in Birmingham (26th and 27th November 2014)
The CBSO centre in Birmingham was the location for a new recording on EM Records of Ian Venables’ complete music for ‘cello and piano. The distinguished Frithjenkinson Duo recorded the composer’s early Elegy Op.2 and Poem Op.29 as well as giving the premiere recordings of arrangements of his songs, ‘At Malvern’ Op.24, ‘It Rains’ Op.33 no2 and ‘The Moon Sails Out’ Op.42. This CD will also feature premiere recordings of cello sonatas by Cyril Scott and Ivor Gurney. The composer was present at the recording sessions. The producer is Matthew Dilley (‘aboutsound’)
First World War Song Recital, Wadham College, Oxford
5th September 2014
Performed by Roderick Williams (baritone) and Gary Matthewman (piano)
The renowned baritone Roderick Williams was accompanied by the gifted young pianist, Gary Matthewman in an imaginatively devised sequence of first world war settings by Butterworth, Gurney, Ireland, Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Hugh-Jones, Paine and Ian Venables. The concert formed part of the English Association’s conference – ‘British Poetry of the Great War’. The recital included two of Ian Venables’ songs – ‘Flying Crooked’ Op.28 no 1 and his setting of Ivor Gurney’s war sonnet ‘Pain’ Op.10. This memorable recital received a standing ovation.
USA Premiere of Canzonetta Op.44
One of the highlights of the summer was the US Premiere of the composer’s recently written Canzonetta Op.44 for clarinet and string quartet. This première formed part of the inaugural season of the ‘Sunset Music and Arts’ Summer Programme. This special concert of British and American music was organised by the distinguished mezzo-soprano, Sally Porter Monro, Bryan Baker, Artistic Director and Conductor of Masterworks Chorale and Matthew Chacko. The concert featured a number of works by Ian Venables, including two early violin and piano pieces from his opus 11, performed by Sarah Wood (violin) and Bryan Baker (piano). Graham Lloyd’s arrangements of four of the composer’s songs with string quartet were sung by Sally Porter Monro and accompanied by the brilliant Cicardian String Quartet. The first song in the group ‘The Night has a Thousand Eyes’ Op.41 no 3 received its first performance in this medium. The final work on the programme was Venables’ Canzonetta performed by Natalie Parker, principal clarinettist of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra together with the Cicardian String Quartet. This work was given an outstanding performance for which both composer and performers, received a standing ovation.
A New Publication from Novello and Co
‘Elegy’ Op.2 for ‘Cello and Piano
“This short work is an excellent example of British chamber music. In spite of the fact that it was an ‘early’ work from the composer, and was written in the heat of passion, it is a well-made piece that deserves to be in the repertoire”. (John France – Musicweb)
“Written in 1980 for the ‘cellist Anthony Gammage, the Elegy for Cello and Piano Op. 2 was the first piece written by Ian Venables for solo instrument and Piano. It is as an elegy for an unreturned love, and has all the melodic and harmonic fingerprints of Venables’s mature style: combining tender lyricism with passionate intensity”.
The score is available from Musicroom. To buy please click HERE for the Musicroom or visit ‘Music Scores’ section.
‘Celebrating English Song’ at Tardebigge, Sunday 20th July
The beautiful parish church at Tardebigge in Worcestershire was the ideal setting for a recital of English Song given by Elizabeth Atherton (soprano), Robert Plane (clarinet) and Michael Pollock (piano). Their recital included songs by Purcell and Warlock together with a performance of Gerald Finzi’s Bagatelles for clarinet and piano and Ian Venables’ song cycle, ‘On the Wings of Love’ Op.38 sung here for the first time by a soprano. John Gough reviewing the concert for the Birmingham Post wrote:
“Elizabeth Atherton’s interpretive gifts gave us the full range of this ambitious and successful work. Clarinet and piano worked well together in the texture of the music, whether setting the scene, or commenting on the array of emotions displayed in songs that treated disappointment, affirmation, passion and, in the Emperor Hadrian’s Epitaph, the sort of still simplicity that only a master can produce”.
Premiere of ‘Canzonetta’ Op.44
“Venables’ music never fails to engage the spirit” (Christopher Morley)
“Deeply Gratifying” (Roderic Dunnett)
“Expressive without doubt describes Ian Venables’ writing, both in his many songs and in this alluring new work …” (Roderic Dunnett)
The composer’s recently commissioned ‘Canzonetta’ for Clarinet and String Quartet was given its premiere by Timothy Orpen and the Cavaleri String Quartet at Bromsgrove Concerts on Friday 21st March with a second performance the following evening at the Droitwich Concert Club. Writing for the Birmingham Post, Christopher Morley wrote: “Venables’ music never fails to engage the spirit, and thanks to the Kay Trust contributing towards a joint commission celebrating the 40th anniversary of Droitwich Concert Club and the Golden Anniversary of Bromsgrove Concerts, his latest work, premiered at both societies over last weekend, spoke with an urgency, an assurance of structure, and a generosity of melody which made a huge impression.His Canzonetta for clarinet and string quartet was perfectly attuned to the medium and clarinettist Timothy Orpen and the splendid
Cavaleri Quartet responded gratefully both to the individual characterisation of their instruments but also to the personality — call and response, melting lyrical harmonisations — the composer drew from the ensemble as a whole”.“This is a short work, but in its eight minutes it moves from a gentle, pastoral lament for Huw Ceredig, the Droitwich chairman who was prime mover in the commission but who succumbed to cancer as the commission was gestating, to a life-affirming, joyous conclusion, the sigh ending with a smile”.
This was a tip-top performance of a work whose compactness, cogency and demeanour all suggest it deserves a place in the repertoire. After a vivid cantilena by Timothy Orpen on the clarinet, the top three strings engage in a shy, sad weeping, before an appealing melody in the lead violin emerges supported by rocking lower strings. There is some beautifully worked counterpoint, cello offset by second violin, and so on: Venables constantly looks for different textures, by means of subtle variations in the instrumentation. There are echoes of his song cycles, perhaps most obviously the Addington Symonds cycle Love’s Voice, which also uses a clarinet. But the feeling, to me, compact and intense, recalls (though coincidentally) the superb Reger Clarinet Quintet, or possibly even the Brahms, heard in Droitwich the next day.
Notable was the feel of long, sustained flow in all the instruments — as opposed to the skedaddling ostinati, mostly descending, which the clarinet fixatedly generates: these fast-moving passages are passed to the middle strings, while the clarinet and matching cello play slower supporting lines. What is particularly striking is that this range and variety, changes of mood and different balancings of members of the quintet is all achieved within a relatively short time. Nine minutes in, a second climax has the players locking horns — or perhaps more benign than that: the effect is almost like carolling together — before the short but rewarding work reaches its end.
‘Ring out the old, ring in the new’
Looking back on the many highlights of 2013 perhaps the two most memorable ones were the premiere of Ian Venables’ commissioned song cycle, The song of the Severn in May, followed closely by the release of a CD of his complete piano music on the Naxos label. The composition of the song cycle occupied the composer for nearly a year. Finding suitable texts posed the biggest artistic challenge, but living in Worcestershire gave him a head start, as A.E Housman was born in Bromsgrove and John Masefield just over the border in Ledbury. Both poets were prominently placed in this new work. For an ‘in depth’ look at the background to this cycle please read the composer’s article in ‘Musical Opinion’. In the final issue of 2013 Birmingham Post, Christopher Morley presented a roundup of his musical highlights of the year. This included a review of The Song of the Severn Op.43
Its peace again the river claims,
But now December on it rests,
Too late for all its battered flowers,
Too late, for all its abandoned nests,
Little mists of times long past,
Hide this summers ravage now;
An ancient solace steals along,
Broken bank and shattered bough.
Only God now lights the river,
Lights from stream to bank, to bark,
With the colours of the Kingfisher,
And returning rules the dark.
On such a day when I am gone,
Away to exile, still and free,
As quiet and steadfast flows the river,
If all is well, remember me.
‘Looking back on a year of celebrations’ (by Christopher Morley)
“There’s much to remember from the many valiant organisations around the region, ploughing a brave furrow in the face of spending cuts and grant depletions. So thank goodness for generous benefactors, such as the Kay Trust, funding new work for premieres in our immediate area, but coming up with exciting compositions which will surely find hearings further afield. One such was Ian Venables’ The Song of the Severn, a celebration of that great river, setting texts from local poets, hugely, engagingly communicative and memorable, and performed with distinction for Malvern Concert Club by Prince among baritones Roderick Williams, the Carducci string quartet and pianist Tom Poster.”
The release in May of a recording of Venables’ complete piano music proved to be a memorable occasion. “The music on the CD spans the greater part of my creative life and includes one of my earliest compositions – an ambitious Piano Sonata composed when I was only 20.The pianist, Graham J. Lloyd gives a masterly and powerful account of this early work and listening to it now, after all these years, I am still amazed at how I managed to put it all together. The impetus for the piece came as a result of the death in 1975 of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. I had discovered his music a few years earlier and as is often the case with my passions I became totally absorbed by his music. Recently, I was asked by the marketing team at Naxos for a digital copy of the first page of the original manuscript. After trawling through my desk I finally found it and noticed, that I had written at the top of the opening page the date 10th August 1975. As I normally only write the month and year at the end of each new work I wondered why I had been so specific about the date. Then it occurred to me that Shostakovich may have died on that day. However, when I looked up his dates, I found that he had died the day before on August 9th 1975. So, it seems that not only did I begin the Sonata the day following his death, but I also decided to commemorate him by incorporating his own D.S.C.H motif throughout the work (it first appears in bars 3-5). When I heard the music again at the recording sessions last year the powerful memories of that time came flooding back. My Sonata is a young man’s heartfelt tribute to a great 20th century composer”.
“As a composer of art-song, Ian Venables is considered to be one of the most important writing today. The Songs of Ian Venables (8.572514), Volume 21 of Naxos’ critically acclaimed English Song Series, was the first devoted to a living composer. This new recording introduces us to his music for solo piano and brings together works written between 1975 and 2001. It is Venables’ singular melodic gift and highly inventive use of harmony that combine to give us works that range from the deeply reflective and wistful to those in a lighter vein, full of charm and joie de vivre”
Venables is certainly best known as an art-song composer, one of his country’s currently most acclaimed, but between 1975 and 2001 he composed a number of pieces for solo piano. They are tonal, sometimes nostalgic, rhythmically exciting and filled with the kind of lyricism that listeners will recall from his songs. Four of the pieces in this disc are heard in world première recordings.
Recommended” by Paul Ballyk at ‘Expedition Audio’
“I’ve listened to this CD many times and have enjoyed it more on each successive hearing. There is much beautiful music here. Poetic and highly evocative, the music is at turns, poignant, euphoric, wistful and whimsical. You feel as though there is a narrative behind it; a story is being told”
Following on from the initial reviews of the Naxos CD’s release, came two further reviews by John Quinn and Rob Barnett, both writing for MusicWeb international.
“The Piano Sonata, which was composed when Venables was twenty, is cast in three movements and it’s an impressive composition… You won’t find the searing intensity or fist-shaking that characterised so much of the Soviet master’s output; rather, the influence of his music has been absorbed, digested and then a suitable covering of English restraint has been added for good measure. This is, as I said, an impressive work and so far as I can judge – the piece was new to me – Graham Lloyd’s performance is equally impressive…There’s some highly accomplished music here and it’s all rewarding and consistently enjoyable. Those who warm to expressive, tonal, accessible and communicative music will find much to enjoy with this disc. It’s hard to imagine that the music could have received better advocacy than Graham Lloyd’s.
John Quinn (Full Review)
“I first tried to write about the works of English composer Ian Venables more than a decade ago…Since then other reviewers have written with greater acuity but similar enthusiasm about Venables’ music. My regard for his music has not faded with hearing this CD. My judgements and generalisations and above all my welcome for this life-benefiting music are confirmed… The 2001 Caprice belongs squarely and with high distinction among the finer works of British piano music. Its world is tonal, melancholy and pastoral with a lineage traceable back to Finzi, Gurney and Howells. From sixteen years before the Caprice come the four Stourhead Follies. They were written after a visit to Stourhead House and Gardens in Wiltshire. The music is gentle but not insipid, confident without any hint of braggadoccio. It is shot through with bell sounds both assertive and in their final decay into silence. Graham J Lloyd is a great advocate for this subtle, accessible and emotionally eloquent music”.
Rob Barnett – Editor of MusicWeb international (Full Review)
“The Grotto … is hauntingly beautiful and, for me, sums up much that Venables has expressed in succeeding years… I would commend this CD to all British music enthusiasts”.
“Any enthusiast for British music, or indeed for any modern or romantic piano repertoire, would get huge pleasure from adding this disc to their collection”
Roderic Dunnett (Full Review)
5* star review of the composer’s recent Naxos CD release of his complete piano music by the editor of ‘Musical Opinion’
“This is a refreshing surprise – contemporary British piano music, clearly several generations down from John Ireland and Alan Rawsthorne – being music written intelligently for the piano, essentially pianistic without tricks and always germane to the musical argument in hand. The early (19750 Sonata (Opus 1, circa 22 minutes) In Memoriam D.S.C.H is worthy of much wider exposure, as are every one of the varied. (in total six works on this very well recorded CD)
Rhapsody for Organ, Op.25
‘In Memoriam Herbert Howells’
(published by Novello/Musicsales America)
‘The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians
Review by Brian P. Harlow
As in many of Howells’ organ compositions, the musical climax is a grand restatement of the main theme on full organ that contrasts with the initial gentle, pastoral presentation.The denouement pulls the music to a quiet ending over a low C pedal point, with a haze of Lydian and Dorian inflections.
“This piece succeeds in capturing and sustaining the intense emotion and forward movement of Howells’ best works.
I think many of our members will want to take a look at this new addition to the repertoire”.
‘Celebrating English Song’ at Tardebigge
Sunday 18th August
In the final recital at this year’s song festival in Tardebigge, Ian Venables took part in a special pre-concert composers’ question time. Members of the audience were invited to ask the panel questions that explored their individual approaches to song composition as well as questions about music generally.
The panel included, John Joubert and Susie Self and the chairman was Graham J. Lloyd
The Fishguard International Music Festival
19th July – 27th July 2013
This year’s festival included two concerts that featured the composer’s music. The first, was a ‘Cello and Piano recital given by the distinguished duo Richard Jenkinson and Benjamin Frith. Flanked between the Poulenc and Britten cello sonatas their programme presented Venables’s complete music for ‘cello and piano. In addition to his ‘Elegy’ Op.2, ‘Poem’ Op.29 and ‘The Moon Sails Out’ Op.41, the duo also gave the first public performance of ‘It Rains’ Op.33a and the world premiere of ‘At Malvern’ – the composer’s own arrangement of his Op.24 song, which was commissioned by Richard Jenkinson. The second concert was given by The Frith Piano Quartet, with Giles Francis and soloist Clare Prewer. This chamber concert showcased the composer’s ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’ Op.36 which was given its first performance by a soprano. Ian Venables introduced his works at the beginning of both concerts.
A new publication from Novello and Co (Music Sales)
‘Remember This’ Op.40
A Cantata for tenor, soprano, string quartet and piano
‘Remember This’ was commissioned by the Limoges Trust.
It received its first performance at the The Cheltenham Festival of Music performed by Caroline MacPhie (sop), Allan Clayton (ten), The Elias String Quartet, Tom Poster (piano) and later broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
The cantata is a setting of Andrew Motion’s elegiac poem written to commemorate the death of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Although, cast in one continuous movement, the cycle’s eight sections are interleaved with narratives that describe her final journey from death, to her public lying in state, funeral and ultimately her burial. The work is 30 minutes in duration.
This newly published score is now available as an individual study score or as a score with parts and can be purchased online from Musicroom.com
Review of “Bells across the Severn” by Roderic Dunnett in The Church Times, 17th May 2013
‘The Song of the Severn’ Op.43 at Forum Theatre, Malvern
“Ever a master of structuring, Venables again artfully leads his performers to a huge climax
in the third stanza, at “In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord”…
But Venables is also a master of fun: the final, reiterated, almost parroted
“Be you merry. . .”, is – coincidentally – a dead ringer for Tippett’s flitting Ariel: “Where the bee sucks”.
5* Review: ‘The Song Of the Severn’ at Forum Theatre, Malvern
(The Birmingham Post)
The composer’s new song cycle for baritone, string quartet and piano received its premiere at the Malvern Concert Club on Thursday 2nd May in recital of chamber music performed by Roderick Williams, the Carducci String Quartet and pianist Tom Poster.
Writing for The Birmingham Post, Christopher Morley said:
“Ian Venables has always been courageous, unafraid to bare his soul in music which speaks so communicatively to the listener”.
“Impressive Venables Premiere Marks 110 Year of Music in Malvern”
John Quinn’s Review for ‘Seenandheard-international.com‘
“The cycle and the performers were accorded an extremely enthusiastic reception by the audience and I’m not surprised. This is fine music that communicates most effectively with the listener”.
In the latest edition of Musical Opinion Ian Venables discusses his new song cycle
‘The Song of the Severn’ Op.43
Premiere of The Song of The Severn Op.43
Thursday 2nd May
Venue: The Malvern Concert Club,
Forum Theatres, Malvern
The composer’s new song cycle for baritone, string quartet and piano will receive its premiere in a recital of chamber music performed by Roderich Williams, the Carducci String Quartet and pianist Tom Poster. The song cycle was commissioned by the Malvern Concert Club and the Kay Trust and it celebrates the landscape and cultural heritage of the county of Worcestershire.
‘A Major Song Cycle Celebrating Worcestershire’
John France discusses the composer’s latest song cycle
‘The Song of The Severn’ Op.43
Ian Venables tells me that the first half of 2012 has been dominated by an important commission from the Malvern Concert Club. They have asked for a ‘chamber’ song cycle for Roderick Williams, the Carducci String Quartet and pianist, Tom Poster. The committee’s remit was for a major work celebrating the poetry and poets of Worcestershire. Venables has suggested that although a great deal of poetry has been written about the county, and especially the Malvern Hills, Worcestershire-born poets are somewhat thin on the ground! A.E. Housman, who was born in Bromsgrove, is probably the county’s most famous literary son. However, the remit wanted a greater breadth of literary achievement. Given the dearth of topographical subject matter, it has taken him some considerable time to find the right texts to set. The composer suggested to me that ‘the heart of the county is the River Severn’. Personally, he enjoys spending time walking or cycling along its banks. He is particularly fond of the ‘reach’ at the village of Kempsey, which lies between Worcester and Tewkesbury: here the river broadens into a majestic sight with a fine view of the Malvern Hills beyond. In arranging the songs for this cycle, Venables has chosen to use the river as both a narrator and as a linking theme throughout the work. The Severn over the centuries has been witness to the changing scenes in the county’s human drama. One of the earliest is the battle between the Roman and the Ancient Britons. John Masefield’s dramatic poem, ‘On Malvern Hill’ will open the cycle:-
A wind is brushing down the clover,
It sweeps the tossing branches bare,
Blowing the poising kestrel over
The crumbling ramparts of the Caer.
It whirls the scattered leaves before us
Along the dusty road to home,
Once it awakened into chorus
The heart-strings in the ranks of Rome.
There by the gusty coppice border
The shrilling trumpets broke the halt,
The Roman line, the Roman order,
Swayed forwards to the blind assault.
Spearman and charioteer and bowman
Charged and were scattered into spray,
Savage and taciturn the Roman
Hewed upwards in the Roman way.
There in the twilight where the cattle
Are lowing home across the fields,
The beaten warriors left the battle Dead
on the clansmen’s wicker shields.
The leaves whirl in the wind’s riot
Beneath the Beacon’s jutting spur,
Quiet are clan and chief, and quiet
Centurion and signifier.
The central section of this poem recalls the onslaught of the Roman legions as they attempt to capture Caractacus. The cycle will then move into a more reflective mood for the second song. For this lyrical ‘intermezzo’, Venables has set A.E. Housman’s poem ‘How Clear, How Lovely Bright’ [No. XVI from More Poems]. This begins with the anticipation of a new dawn when a vow will be made: one that the poet intends to keep. However, in the final stanza we are told that it was in the end, a false dawn and the vow dies:- Ensanguining the skies How heavily it dies Into the west away; Past touch and sight and sound Not further to be found, How hopeless under ground Falls the remorseful day. The third song, acts as the cycle’s slow movement. This is a setting of John Drinkwater’s ‘Elgar’s Music’. This is a poem I do not know and cannot find in my copy of the poet’s collected works. The Malvern Concert Club was founded by Elgar in 1903 so Venables wanted to mark this occasion while at the same time paying his own tribute to Elgar’s music. The fourth song is a setting of Masefield’s ebullient poem, ‘Laugh, and be merry’:-
Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.
Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.
So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.
Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.
This song acts as an energetic ‘scherzo’ movement and presents a lively and bucolic commentary upon the gifts that the landscape gives to humanity. The final number, ‘December on the River,’ is a setting of a poem by Phillip Worner; the river becomes a metaphor for the landscape’s eternal and ceaseless flow upon which a lone human voice is heard to reflect on their mortality. I understand that Venables has completed the ‘short score’ and is currently working on the scoring. Based on the composer’s previous song settings, such as The Pine Boughs Past Music and On the Wings of Love , this promises to be an impressive work that may well stand beside Ralph Vaughan William’s masterly On Wenlock Edge. After completion of this song-cycle Venables will make a start on another commission from both the Droitwich Concert Club (of which he is a Vice-President) and the Bromsgrove Concert Club, This will be a short work for clarinet and string quartet. It will be premiered in the autumn of 2014.
‘Liedermatinee’.Mendelssohn-Haus – Leipzig
Sunday 28th April 2013
Kristian Soerensen (tenor), Andreas Lehnert (clarinet) and Hsiao-Lan Wang (piano) perform Ian Venables’ song cycle ‘On the Wings of Love’ Op.38
BBC Radio 3 broadcast of ‘Easter Hymn’. Saturday Classics, 30th March
In the first of four editions of Saturday Classics the broadcaster and composer Richard Sisson presents an alternative musical view of Spring. This programme featured ‘Easter Hymn’ – the opening song from Ian Venables’ cycle ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’ Op.36
The Australian Premiere of ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’ Op.36
The Australian premiere of Ian Venables’ Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op.36 was given by the acclaimed young baritone Michael Lampard and the pianist Karen Smithies in a Song Recital at St George’s Anglican Church, Battery Point, Tasmania on Saturday 9th February. The concert was reviewed by Peter Donnelly for the Mercury Newspaper, Hobart
“Venables’s [Songs of Eternity and Sorrow] contain music that is dark and full of unease, reflecting the brilliant texts by A.E. Housman. Lampard’s rendering of the first song “Easter hymn” had a searing intensity, amply demonstrating the level of confidence and range of expression he has latterly attained in his singing”.
Christopher Morley’s Classical Music Roundup of 2012
The Birmingham Post, Thursday 27th December 2012
“… Worcester Concert Club hosted an amazing recital by cellist Richard Jenkinson and pianist Benjamin Frith, including a breath holding account of the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata and Ian Venables’ world-stopping Elegy – almost my highlight of the year, this performance of such a passionate and anguished work.
For more please see Reviews Section
Oxford Chamber Music Society
Sunday 25th November
The Coull Quartet with Mark Bebbington (piano)
Venables: Piano Quintet opus 27
Ireland: Piano Sonata
Elgar: Piano Quintet in A minor opus 84
For a review please see Reviews Section
BBC Radio 3 broadcast
Tuesday 13th November
Roderick Williams (baritone) and Susie Allan (piano) give a recital of British song including, Ian Venable’s tribute to Ivor Gurney ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ Op.39. This concert was recorded at this year’s Manchester Pride Festival. The programme is produced by Les Pratt and presented by Katie Derham.
‘Faithful following is this master’s secret’
Featured article in the Birmingham Post by Christopher Morley
Thursday 2nd November, 2012
The full text can be found in the (Reviews Section)
Worcester Concert Club
Sunday 4th November, 2012
The Countess of Huntingdon’s Hall, Deansway, Worcester
Richard Jenkinson (cello) and Benjamin Frith (piano)
Stravinsky – Suite Italienne
Brahms – Sonata in E minor, Op. 38
Schumann – 3 Fantasy Pieces
Ian Venables – Elegy
Rachmaninov – Sonata in G minor
“Ian Venables, was present to hear his own Caprice, its clarity and forward movement captured perfectly by the pianist. This is music whose ideas are instantly memorable and identifiable, working towards a big ending which teases at containing so much more”
(Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post)
The Gloucester Music Society
Thursday 25th October, 2012
St Mary de Loade Church, Gloucester
Piano Recital given by Mark Bebbington
Ivor Gurney – Sehnsucht; The Sea (manuscript); Prelude in Db major
Arthur Bliss – Four Masks
Matthew Taylor – Piano Sonata – world première
Ian Venables – Caprice Op.35
John Ireland – Sonata
Chamber Music Evening Concert (BBC Radio 3 Recording)
Tuesday 21st August
The Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, Manchester University.
Roderick Williams (baritone) with Susie Allan (piano)
The Pine Boughs Past Music Op.39
Following their Tardebigge, ‘Celebrating English Song’ Recital (see below) Roderick Williams and Susie Allan are presenting the same programme at this year’s Pride Festival in Manchester.
Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge
Sun 19th August 2012
Tardebigge Church, Bromsgrove
Roderick Williams – baritone and Susie Allan – piano
Their Programme includes songs by Ireland, Ian Venables’s song cycle ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ Op.39, Michael Berkeley, and Somervell’s “A Shropshire Lad”.
Free pre-concert talk at 2.00 pm by Michael Berkeley talking about his “Hollow Fires” song cycle.
A Summer Concert in San Francisco
On Sunday 12th August at the Presbyterian Church of San Francisco, mezzo-soprano, Sally Munro-Porter, accompanied by Graham Lloyd will give the world premiere of Ian Venables’s song ‘The Night has a Thousand Eyes’ Op.41 no 3.
This work, commissioned by Kenneth. R Prendergast to mark the occasion of his 50th birthday, will be performed during a concert of the composer’s music. This special concert organised to coincide with the composer’s visit to the Bay area includes the US premiere of his song cycle ‘On the Wings of Love’ Op.38 performed by Brian Thorsett (tenor), Ulysses Loken (piano) and Jeremy Flanagan (clarinet)
Live broadcast on Australia’s ABC ClassicFM Radio
Sunday 29th July at 3pm.
The Tasmanian born baritone Michael Lampard and pianist Karen Smithies are to give the Australasian Premiere of ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music Op.39’. Their recital from the Stanley Burbury Theatre (University of Tasmania) can be heard live on ABC ClassicFM. Tune into ABC’s website at http://www.abc.net.au/classic/
Ivor Gurney Society Spring Weekend – 5th May, 2012
After ten years as chairman of the Ivor Gurney Society Ian Venables has handed over the baton to Rolf Jordan. This memorable day included a recital of song by the acclaimed Tasmanian born baritone, Michael Lampard, accompanied by Christopher Boodle. His brilliant recital included two songs by the composer. During the afternoon Ian Venables interviewed the distinguished singer, Ian Partridge about his life and his recording legacy of the song of Ivor Gurney.
The opening concert at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival of Music saw the long awaited premiere
of the composer’s chamber cantata Remember This Op.40.
Commissioned by the Birmingham based ‘Limoges Trust’, the work is a setting of Sir Andrew Motion’s poem, which was written in 2002 to commemorate the eath of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The cantata was given its premiere by Allan Clayton (tenor), Caroline MacPhie (soprano), The Elias String Quartet and Tom Poster (piano) and was recorded by the BBC.
‘Remember This’ was enthusiastically received and Christopher Morley, music critic for the
Birmingham Post wrote,
“The music of … Ian Venables has never failed to grip the listener with its accessibility and ability to communicate, and its fearless use of a tonality we all under stand. Frequently working through the vocal medium, his choice of poetic texts has found in him a response which illuminates the message, laying the words so naturally upon the singer, stretching the vocalist whilst never creating impossible demands. Its effect was spell-binding, not only thanks to the performances of the soloists….but also to the sheer quality of the music itself. Earlier we had hear MacPhie gloriously radiant in Faure’s La Bonne Chanson,and Clayton so compellingly controlled in Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge, a direct ancestor of what is certainly Venables’ masterpiece at this time”.
On Christmas Day 2011, Ian Venables began work on a commission from Kenneth R. Prendergast of a song setting for mezzo- soprano and piano. This new song will receive its premiere in San Mateo, California in August 2012.
Venables’ continuing association with Novello and Company will see not only the publication of Remember This Op.40, but also his large scale choral work, Awake, awake, the world is young Op.34 which was commissioned in 1999 by Charlton King’s and Cirencester Choral Societies to celebrate the Millennium. Other works to be publish ed this year by Novello include, On the Wings of Love Op.38; Elegy for ‘Cello and Piano Op.2 and the Three Pieces for Violin and PianoOp.11. (See Music Scores)
Novello and Co have just released Venables’s first song cycle for baritone, The Pine Boughs Past Music Op.39
In addition to his work as a composer, Ian Venables will give several talks about his own music, as well as on the wider subject of English art-song. The first of these will take place between 24th – 26th April at Leigh Park Country House Hotel, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire as part of an ‘Arts in Residence’ music course. Led by Terry Barfoot, this special event will explore the highways and byways of English Music and will include talks by Ian Venables on his songs and Piano Quintet. On the 15th October the composer will be giving a talk at the Ross Classical Music Society entitled ‘Going for a Song’ – An introduction to English art song. A talk for The English Speaking Union is also planned. (date TBC) (See Forthcoming Event)
Last year saw the release of a series of important CDs featuring the composer’s music. They culminated in a recording of the his Piano Quintet Op.27 which was released on the celebrated SOMM label. This work performed by The Coull String Quartet and pianist Mark Bebbington was described in the Gramophone as “Chamber Music in the English pastoral tradition, delectably championed…. Lovers of the 20th– century English music renaissance will derive much pleasure from this enterprising and rewarding SOMM anthology”. This recording also included a selection of the composer’s solo works for ‘cello, violin and viola accompanied by the distinguished pianist Graham J. Lloyd. The Three Pieces for Violin and Piano were singled out for particular praise by David Jennings, writing for MusicWeb International. He described the ‘Romance’ as “astonishingly fine and is music of heartfelt simplicity. This must rank amongst the most beautiful pieces for violin and piano, and not just from this country”. Following the outstanding success of the composer’s first recording of songs on the world-renowned Naxos label, Graham J. Lloyd will, this autumn, record a complete disc of Venables’ piano music. This Naxos CD will be released in 2013.
After completing ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ Op.39 the composer turned his attention to finishing his large scale Cantata –‘Remember This’ Op.40. This work was commissioned by the Birmingham-based Limoges Trust in 2008 and has occupied the composer for a number of years. The Cantata is a setting for tenor, soprano, string quartet and piano of a commemorative poem by the former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion. Written in 2002, ‘Remember This’, was the Laureate’s heartfelt response to the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Although this long narrative poem is a tribute to the Queen Mother, it also invites readers to reflect upon their own mortality and the eternal cycle of life and death. The Cantata was finished at the end of 2010 and will receive its première at this year’s Cheltenham Festival of Music on the 29th June 2011, performed by tenor Allan Clayton, soprano Caroline MacPhie, with the Elias String Quartet and pianist Tom Poster. This BBC ‘New Generation Artists’ concert will also be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Given the nature of recent commissions, ‘art-song’ continues to be the main focus of the composer’s work. However, in addition to the large-scale song cycles, Venables has also found time to compose a number of individual solo songs. These have each been put into groups and they will eventually form a distinct set of songs for either baritone voice as Op.41, or for soprano as Op.37.
Looking ahead, the focus of this year’s creative activities will be the initial background and planning of a new work, commissioned by The Malvern Concert Club. The remit of this commission is a twenty-minute song cycle for voice and chamber ensemble. This prestigious commission is being written for the baritone Roderick Williams and will receive its première during the Concert Club’s 2012/13 season.Other news items of interest include: the forthcoming publication, by Venables’ publisher Novello and Co. of ‘At the Court of the Poisoned Rose’ Op.20 – for counter-tenor or mezzo-soprano, On the Wings of Love Op.38, ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ Op.39 and the newly composed Cantata ‘Remember This’ Op.40.
This year the composer is delighted to be working with the Barbirolli Quartet ahead of a number of programmed performances and in preparation for a new recording of his String Quartet Op.32 during the summer.
2010 was a very active and productive year for the composer. Since retiring from his full time teaching post in 2009 Ian Venables is now able to devote himself entirely to music.During the first half of 2010 he composed a new song cycle for the acclaimed British baritone Roderick Williams. ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’ Op.39 was commissioned by Christine Talbot-Cooper on behalf of the Gloucester Music Society to celebrate the 8oth Anniversary of the founding of the society. Venables’ new cycle consists of four settings of poems by two Gloucestershire-born poets – Ivor Gurney and Leonard Clark. Although the Gloucestershire-inspired poetry provided the work with a unifying ‘theme’, the composer wanted to explore the inherent lyricism found in the poems themselves, and particularly the poets’ engagement with ‘landscape’. This much-anticipated work was given its première by Roderick Williams and the pianist Andrew West at St Mary de Lode Church in Gloucester on 15th April. (See Reviews). Later in the year the cycle received a second performance at the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival, performed once again by Roderick Williams but on this occasion with the pianist Susie Allan.
In addition to compositional ‘work in progress’ the composer has been actively involved in a number of CD recording projects. The first recording, on the Signum Label (See Recordings), is a complete disc of the composer’s music for voice and string quartet. Entitled ‘At Midnight’, it includes the song cycle ‘Invite, to Eternity’, Op.31 – four settings to poems by John Clare, as well as an arrangement by Graham J. Lloyd of four of the composer’s most well known songs. The première recording of Venables’ String Quartet Op.32 rounds off this important new release. The performers on this CD are the award winning tenor Andrew Kennedy and the internationally acclaimed Dante String Quartet. The second disc, released in September on the Naxos label, presents a selection of the composer’s songs. This recording is part of Naxos’ acclaimed English Songs Series (Vol.21) and is the first devoted to a living composer. It includes the première recording of the song cycle ‘On the Wings of Love’ Op.38 for tenor, clarinet and piano, as well the song cycle ‘Love’s Voice’ Op.22 for tenor and piano. Once again, the singer is Andrew Kennedy, who is partnered by the pianist Iain Burnside and clarinettist Richard Hosford. This new recording received a double five star award in the December issue of the BBC Music Magazine (see Reviews). The final recording, released in November, is a disc of Venables’ principal works for piano and strings. This much-awaited CD includes the first recording of the composer’s Piano Quintet Op.27 as well as a selection of other chamber works. The performers are the pianists Mark Bebbington and Graham J. Lloyd and the Coull Quartet (see Reviews). On the 3rd December 2010, the composer attended a Wigmore Hall concert, held to celebrate the 65th birthday of the renowned cellist Bernard Gregor-Smith. The concert opened with the première of a new Venables work, commissioned especially for the concert. ‘The Moon Sails Out’ Op.42 for cello and piano is based upon the composer’s earlier setting, for voice, clarinet and piano, of a poem by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. The obvious Spanish influence in this work was an intentional tribute to the cellist’s close association with Andalucia.
The year 2008 started auspiciously with the release on the SIGNUM label (SIGCD112) of Ian Venables’ Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36, performed by Andrew Kennedy, the Dante Quartet and Simon Crawford-Phillips (see photo album).
This cycle was commissioned by the Housman Society and received its premiere at the Ludlow English Song Weekend in 2004. The recording, entitled ‘On Wenlock Edge’ has received much critical acclaim in all the leading CD music review magazines (see reviews) and it has been featured on both Andrew McGregor’s Record Review programme on Radio 3 and on Sean Rafferty’s ‘In Tune’.
It has also been highly praised in the National press. David Mellor writing in the ‘Mail on Sunday’ said, ‘Ian Venables choses some less well known Housman, including ‘Because I liked you better’ … Venables’ four settings come as an unexpected bonus and cap an outstanding CD no lover of British music should miss’. The music for this cycle has now been published by Novello and Co and can be obtained through this website by visiting the scores section. Other new publications released by Novello and Co in 2008 include, Ian Venables’ ‘Song Album – Ten settings for Baritone and Piano’ and an arrangement for voice and piano of ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’ Op. 36a by Graham Lloyd. (seescores).
2008 has also seen further progress towards the completion of a large-scale song-cycle – a setting of Andrew Motion’s commemorative poem, ‘Remember This’. Commissioned by the Birmingham-based Limoges Trust, it is scored for tenor, soprano, string quartet, and piano and it is expected to be around 40 minutes in length. ‘Remember This’ is an elegy on the life of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. It comprises eight sections, inter-linked by a narrative that touches on interludes in her life, whilst reflecting upon the wider significance for humanity of the eternal cycle of life and death. This work is being especially written for the tenor Andrew Kennedy and soprano Elizabeth Watts and it will receive its world premiere at the end of 2010.
Breaking off from the Limoges commission, the composer set a short lyric poem, entitled ‘Friendship’ by the English poet Elizabeth Jennings. This song was written for the soprano Patricia Rozario and is dedicated to the memory of Jim Chance, a close friend of the composer who died suddenly in April 2008.
2009 will see the culmination of a number of recordings of the composer’s works. Andrew Kennedy, together with the Dante String Quartet, will record on the SIGNUM Label a complete CD of the composer’s music for voice and strings. The chief works represented on the disc are his song cycle, Invite, to Eternity Op. 31 – four settings of poems by John Clare, and his powerful String Quartet Op. 32.
The second recording is for the SOMME RECORDING CO. This CD will include all the composer’s music for strings and piano and will feature his important Piano Quintet Op. 27. The artist’s on this recording will be the Coull String Quartet and pianists Mark Bebbington and Graham Lloyd.
Finally, in November, Andrew Kennedy, together with pianist Iain Burnside and clarinettist Richard Hosford, will record a complete CD of the composer’s songs on the Naxos label. This major recording will also include the premiere recording of his song cycle, On the Wings of Love Op. 38 for tenor, clarinet and piano. As there are no release dates for these recordings, please watch this space!
Later this year, the composer will begin work on a song cycle for Baritone and Piano, for the outstanding British singer, Roderick Williams. The commissioning body for this work is the Gloucester Music Society and is to be written in celebration of its 80th anniversary. The cycle will draw on poetry written by Gloucestershire poets. The composer is delighted to be writing a work specifically for Roddy Williams who has already recorded and performed works by Venables.
This year has seen the fruition of a number of ongoing musical projects, culminating in December 2007 with the composer’s signing for the world-renowned publishers Novello and Co. (see photo album). Arrangements are now in place for the publication of all Venables’ songs and vocal music. Such has been the demand that his ‘Song Album’ (high voice) is now in its second printing – the album for baritone will be available in January. In addition, it is hoped that the full score of his song cycle ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36’ will be on sale at the end of February. Novello and Co have also produced an informative and up to date biography together with a complete list of all currently available music scores on their website at www.chesternovello.com.
In conjunction with the publication of the score of Songs of Eternity and Sorrow, the acclaimed young tenor, Andrew Kennedy, together with the Dante String Quartet and pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips have recorded the cycle, and this new recording has just been released with outstanding reviews (see reviews). The CD is entitled ‘On Wenlock Edge’, and in addition to the famous Vaughan Williams cycle, the recording also includes Ivor Gurney’s ‘Ludlow and Teme’. This compact disc in available on the Signum Classics label (SIGCD112) and can be bought online at Presto Classical and Amazon.
During the summer of 2007, Ian Venables spent a month in the USA. While in San Francisco he gave an interview for the San Francisco Chronicle and a podcast that featured his Elegy for ‘Cello and Piano Op. 2. The cellist was Nathan Chan, a 13 year-old child prodigy who together with the pianist Graham Lloyd gave a passionate and moving performance of this early work. So successful was the partnership that this recording was uploaded onto Youtube where it has since received much critical acclaim and world-wide attention.
In the autumn of 2007, Cambridge University held its first conference to the poet and composer Ivor Gurney. As Chairman of the Ivor Gurney Society, Ian Venables was asked to give a paper on the subject of Gurney’s unpublished songs. His recent research into these songs led him to reconstruct a performing version of Gurney’s setting of Hilaire Belloc’s ‘Tarantella’ for tenor and piano. This was the focus of his paper and Gurney’s setting was subsequently given its first performance in a concert to mark the end of the conference by the tenor Andrew Kennedy and pianist Joseph Middleton. This recital also included a performance of the composer’s own setting of Gurney’s war sonnet ‘Pain’.
2007 also saw a number of high profile performances of the composer’s works that included two performances of his String Quartet Op. 32 by the Dante Quartet; a performance of his song cycle Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36 with Andrew Kennedy and the Sacconi String quartet, together with solo songs featured in recitals by Roderick Williams, William Coleman and Nathan Vale.
Although the composer is now recovering well from his recent illness he has through necessity had to curtail some of his composing and so regretfully has not been able to take on any new commissions. However, 2008 will be dominated by a major new work written especially for Andrew Kennedy and the soprano Elizabeth Watts.This work will be based upon the poem, ‘Remember This’ by the Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion (more news to follow).
The Gurney Society annual spring weekend
Saturday 29 April 2006
St. Andrew’s Church, Churchdown, Gloucester
A Lecture and Song Recital
At 2.00pm – ‘Ivor Gurney and English Lyric Poetry’ with Professor Stephen Regan.
At 3.00pm – song recital with Keira Lyness (soprano) and Richard Sisson (piano).
Sunday 30 April 2006 – A literary walk with Graham Middleton.
This English song recital will include a variety of settings by Gurney, Butterworth, Quilter, Bussey, Ireland, and Elaine Hugh-Jones. The recital is followed by tea at 4.00pm. Combined tickets for the talk and recital are �15 and can be obtained from John Phillips on 01497 831660 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the first half of 2005, Ian Venables took a sabbatical and spent the majority of his time in Boston, USA where he worked on a number of new musical projects. He was also able to forge links with musicians at the New England Conservatoire. The distinguished Boston composer, Daniel Pinkham introduced Venables to Matthew McConnell and Troy Lucia who were studying composition. In May, Venables visited New York, and was fortunate to meet the composer, Ned Rorem. Rorem who is now in his early 80’s, is still very active as a composer and writer. His latest book entitled, ‘Wings of Friendship’ is a selection of his letters from (1944-2003) to some of America’s leading artistic figures, including; Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thompson, Paul Bowles, and Edmund White. On his return to England in June, the composer suffered a serious illness that curtailed his composing for several months. He is now on the road to recovery and is currently completing a cycle of songs for tenor, clarinet and piano. This work will receive its premiere in December of this year at the Holywell Rooms in Oxford. In the summer of 2005, his recent ‘Finzi Friends’ commission, Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36 was arranged especially for voice and piano by Graham Lloyd for a performance at the ‘Celebrating English Song Series’ in Tardebigge, given by the 2005 Cardiff Singer of the World Lieder Prize winner, the tenor Andrew Kennedy and the pianist, Simon Lepper.
2006 will see a number of ongoing musical projects come to fruition. The independent record label SOMM, are due to release two English Song CDs that will include songs by the composer. The first disc, entitled. ‘Severn and Somme’ is performed by the baritone, Roderick Williams and pianist, Susie Allan. This disc will present a number of previously unrecorded songs by Ivor Gurney, together with songs by Christian Wilson and the late John Sanders. The Venables songs included are; Midnight Lamentation, A Kiss, Flying Crooked and Easter Song. The second CD, entitled, Love’s Voice is performed by the tenor, Nathan Vale and pianist Paul Plummer. This disc will feature song cycles by John Ireland, Finzi and Ian Venables’ cycle, Love’s Voice Op. 22, plus four other songs by the composer. Both of these recording will be available in the Autumn. Other concert highlights this year, will include; a performance of the composers large scale choral work, Awake, Awake, the World is Young Op. 34, given by the Worcester Cathedral Choral Society, conducted by Adrian Lucas; a song recital, as part of this year’s, ‘Autumn in Malvern’ music festival given by the tenor Nathan Vale and pianist Paul Plummer; a talk at the Recorded Music Society in Worcester, given by John Brain, that will feature the composer’s Piano Quintet Op. 27 and a song recital at St James’s Church, Wollaston performed by the tenor, Nathan Vale together with the pianist, Michael Jones and clarinettist, Anthony May.
2004 saw the completion and first performance of the composer’s song cycle, Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36. This commissioned work by the ‘Finzi Friends’ was premiered at the triennial ‘Weekend of English Song’ held in Ludlow on Friday 4th June. It was performed by Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Simon Lepper (piano) and the Tippett string quartet (see reviews). Before the concert Ian Venables discussed his new work in an open forum with Lyndon Jenkins.
On the 4th April 2004, Lady Bliss, the widow of Sir Arthur Bliss celebrated her 100th birthday. By way of a personal tribute, Ian Venables composed a special song – a setting of John Clare’s poem, ‘Love Lives Beyond’. This was privately recorded by the soprano Susan Black and pianist Graham Lloyd and was presented to Lady Bliss, at her home on Sunday 15th August. (see Bliss Society Newsletter Vol. 2, no. 4). See the Bliss Society website for more information.
One of the highlights of 2004 was the Three Choirs Festival song recital in Gloucester, given by Roderick Williams and Iain Burnside. This concert included two of the composer’s most engaging and popular songs, A Kiss Op. 15 and Flying Crooked Op. 28. In his review for the BMS Newsletter, Lewis Foreman said, ‘The two songs by Ian Venables were timeless, the dancing butterfly of the second delightfully caught, reminding us that good songs are still being written and need to be sung’.
On the 6th of November the composer travelled to Chester to hear a performance of his anthem, Awake, Awake the World is Young Op. 34 performed by the Chester Bach Singers, together with musicians from Chetham’s School of Music, conducted by Martin Bussey. Also in November the Baritone Howard Wong gave the premiere of the song Break, break, break Op. 33 no. 5 at a recital in London.
2005 looks to be yet another busy year for the composer. He is currently at work on a set of songs for Tenor, Clarinet and Piano, which will be his Op. 38. This privately commissioned work will bring together a number of settings in English by non-English poets.
By far the most important news this year is Thames Publishing’s decision to publish all of Ian Venables’ songs and chamber music. This exciting collaboration will begin with a volume of songs for high voice and will continue over the next few years with the publication of his other major works. For more information see the MusicRoom’s Music Sales.
Another highlight of 2005 will undoubtedly be the composer’s sabbatical in the USA. For two months he will be living in Boston, MA where he will work with musician’s from the New England Conservatory and the Boston University School of Music. In connection with this Ian Venables has been awarded a travel grant by the PRS foundation and Bliss Trust.
To mark the composer’s 50th birthday, there will be a concert of his music at the Countess of Huntingdon’s Hall, Worcester on Saturday 9th July and a concert in San Francisco to coincide with composer’s actual birthday on July 25th.
During the summer, Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge, (see below for further details) will also include his recent ‘Finzi Friends’ commission, in a special arrangement for Tenor and Piano by Graham Lloyd.
At the end of last year the composer completed a commission by the ‘Finzi Friends’ of a cycle of songs to poems by A. E. Housman. The work, entitled Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op. 36 will be premiered at this year’s ‘Weekend of English Song’ in Ludlow on Friday 4th June performed by the tenor Andrew Kennedy with the Tippett String Quartet and pianist Simon Lepper (see the performances page for further details). Before the concert there will be an opportunity to hear the composer discuss the background to this new work in an open forum with Lyndon Jenkins.
Other highlights this year will include a performance of the composer’s orchestration of two Ivor Gurney songs ‘Severn Meadows’ and ‘Even such is Time’. These will form part of an English Orchestral Song concert on the 22nd May, given by Pershore Choral Society and conducted by Andrew Wilson. The songs will be premiered alongside two other Gurney songs orchestrated by Herbert Howells. On the 7th May there will be a performance of the composer’s String Quartet Op. 32 given by one of the country’s leading chamber groups, Chamber Domaine. This concert at the Hollywell Rooms in Oxford will also feature the first performance of a number of the composer’s songs arranged, by Graham J. Lloyd and sung by the soprano Helen Meyerhoff.
On the 4th April, Lady Bliss, the widow of Sir Arthur Bliss will celebrate her 100th birthday. By way of a tribute the composer has composed a special song – a setting of a poem by John Clare and chosen by Lady Bliss. The work will be presented to her on her birthday and performed shortly afterwards.