Gramophone Review of Portraits of a Mind Op.54


For all that this album takes its title from – and, as the booklet states unequivocally, ‘centres on’ – Ian Venables’s rather fine new song-cycle, commissioned to mark the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’s birth, it is the wonderful On Wenlock Edge that dominates proceedings. Venables’s even scored Portraits of a Mind (2022) for the same forces: tenor, piano and string quartet; time will only tell whether he follows VW’s example and produces an orchestral version, too! 

Venables’s strong song set is a worthy commemoration for the composer I would rank the finest from Britain since the Tudor period, even over Elgar (heretical as that may seem). Venables’s selection of texts is nicely acute, opening with the George Meredith poem that inspired The Lark Ascending and continuing with others by VW’s widow Ursula, RL Stevenson, Christina Rossetti and Whitman. The result is an original and beautifully balanced cycle that, frankly, would grace any recital or recording. It receives a marvellous rendition from Fisher, and the accompaniments by The Navarra Quartet and William Vann (some may find these a touch reverential; I do not) are near ideal.

Guy Rickards