‘At Midnight’ CD, by John Steane

Gramophone Review
October 2010

by John Steane

Ian Venables has a distinctive “voice”, no less his own on account of its incorporating accents of his forebears – in this selection of his work those that came most to mind were Purcell, Tippett, Warlock and Bartok. To myself as listener these are congenial reference-points and they offer a way in to speculation as to why it is that his own, very personal, form of utterance falls as on prepared ground. A further element in the compound (as I hear it) is a more unlikely one: in the intenser moments of yearning there is something Italianate. Restrained and refined, of course, but as it were pressing for release is the aching lyricism of (dare I say it?) a composer like the Cilea of L’arlesiana.

In the present programme the constant factor is the string quartet which Venables (like his arranger in the Four Songs, Graham Lloyd) uses most effectively. The three-movement Quartet is an appealing work, the outer movements set off by the Allegretto scherzando, which dances away happily with a good tune to help. Even here, in his writing for strings, the instruments sing – one could almost fancy they had words written into their parts. In the songs themselves, the vocal line seems central, not as in so many modem compositions added to accommodate the text, and they show a feeling for the singing voice (it’s as though the composer sings internally as he writes). And of course Andrew Kennedy does well by them: strong, assured and expressive… in the present recital I enjoyed the String Quartet most and the Dante Quartet’s playing throughout.

John Steane