‘On Wenlock Edge’ on Signum Classics (SIGCD112) February 2008
Performers: Andrew Kennedy (tenor), the Dante quartet, and Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano)
Explosive energy, mighty rhetorical gestures and commanding intensity supply this album’s considerable hallmarks…. There’s an expressionist wildness about the way Kennedy and his collaborators treat these songs. Listen, for example, to Vaughan Williams’ ‘Bredon Hill’ or Venables’s ‘Easter Hymn’, which speak profoundly of troubled states of mind. Housman’s lyrics, deceptively simple in style yet emotionally charged, have always attracted composers – ironically so, because having his verses set enraged the poet. These three cycles represent intriguingly different responses – the Vaughan Williams the most profound and dramatic; the Gurney musically more straightforward, though shot with terrible unease. The Venables, premiered by Kennedy in 2004, follows the others rather well, its idiom (deliberately, perhaps) quite similar; its emotional tone, more aware of Housman’s homosexual subtexts, brings out his brittle acidity, and the protesting irony of ‘Oh who is that young sinner’. The three make an interesting programme, and with so many excellent versions of ‘On Wenlock Edge’, that’s an important element of choice. [Kennedy’s performance of] Venables’ mordant ‘Easter Hymn’ and forlorn ‘Because I liked you better’ are distinctly telling.
Michael Scott Rohan, BBC Music Magazine, 1 January 2008