Requiem Op. 48 – New Release on Delphian Records
One of the highlights of 2022 was the release on Delphian Records CD of the composer’s Requiem Op.48 in a new orchestral arrangement written for Benjamin Nicholas and Merton College Choir, Oxford. The recording was launched at a special concert at Merton College last November, and it included a performance of the Requiem with Merton and the Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia. Since its release the CD has received excellent reviews, including a 5* recommendation from Choir and Organ.
“If you think of new English music as hard on the ear and bereft of melody, Venables will force you to reconsider” (Simon Heffer, The Telegraph)
“…craftsmanship, sincerity and ability to stir the more tender emotions – well reflected in this performance – remains undeniably appealing” (Geoff Brown, BBC Music Magazine)
“This album is a flawless triumph, emotionally uplifting and intense” (Yorkshire Times)
Requiem Op.48 – An Outstanding Review in the Gramophone (February 2023)
by Alexandra Coghlan
“The Venables is an immediately attractive work as much (as others have pointed out) in the lineage of Duruflé and Fauré as Howells. Memories of plainchant, modal harmonies and gently melancholic English lyricism run through movements often constructed from small motivic cells that gain stature through repetition and elaboration. Simplicity becomes strength here – this is music that feels more sculptural than painterly.
Its innovations are mostly atmospheric. The composer arranges the Requiem’s pick-and-mix text without an ‘In Paradisum’, leaving us instead with a more ambiguous ‘Lux aeterna’, while moments of traditional articulation – the Offertorium’s snarling lions and looming pit, for example, the unexpected emphasis on ‘hodie’ later in the same movement – are heard from a new perspective. Benjamin Nicholas (also the soloist in the Rhapsody) draws consistently confident, warm sounds from Merton Choir – at their best when galvanised by the organ and the very classy Oxford Contemporary Sinfonia in full cry. There’s nothing fey about their Howells but it’s the darker moment of the Venables – the knotty ‘Libera me’, the middle section of the ‘Lux aeterna’ – that really make their mark.
“By turns moving and consoling to the living”
“A thoroughly admirable release”
The reviewer Philip Reed wrote: “Ian Venables’s Requiem originally conceived for choir and organ is here presented in new clothes: an orchestral version tailored specially for this CD which adds further colour and texture to the piece. One is reminded of the example of Duruflé’s Requiem and its different versions, even more so when Venables’s composition employs modal harmony and modally inflected melody like Duruflé. By turns moving and consoling to the living, Venables’s Requiem here receives a superb rendition from Benjamin Nicholas and his Oxford forces, ever responsive to the composer’s emotional trajectory through the liturgical text. Nicholas also shows his mettle as an organist in Venables’s Rhapsody. The Howells anthems, also appearing in orchestral guise, brings these works into fresh perspective. Throughout, the mixed voices of the Merton College Choir sing their hearts out for Nicholas, well balanced, well-tuned and well-drilled.
Background to the Delphian CD Recording
My Requiem was commissioned by Bryce and Cynthia Somerville and originally composed for Choir and Organ in 2017. It received its premiere at Gloucester Cathedral in November 2018 and following the London Premiere by the choral ensemble Evoke at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square in July 2019 it was recorded on the SOMM Records label later that year. In 2020, Benjamin Nicholas, Director of Music at Merton College Oxford, asked me if I would consider orchestrating my Requiem. What an inspired idea that was and with the kind support of Kate and Patrick Aydon, who commissioned the orchestration, I began working on it in late 2020. The deadline to complete the orchestration was then brought forward when Ben proposed to record the work with Merton College Choir in partnership with Delphian Recordings, with whom he had a close association. Of course, such an undertaking could only be made possible with the support of a substantial sponsor and so it was beyond our expectations when the Morris-Venables Charitable Foundation offered to generously fund the project. By March 2021, Ben had arranged the orchestral forces and so everything was in readiness for the recording to take place in early June.
In addition to recording the Requiem, Ben wanted to include two other works of mine, the Anthem, God Be Merciful and the Rhapsody for Organ: the Anthem having been composed in 2021 during the Covid epidemic. This work came about as the result of a commission from Mr Gary Morris to write a short choral work in celebration of his partner, Robert Venables QC, being awarded a Fellowship from St Edmund Hall, Oxford. I chose to set the text of Psalm 67: its plea to God to restore health to the Nations and make the earth bountiful again was the message that was uppermost in all our minds during the pandemic.
The other works on the CD are Three Anthems, O Pray For The Peace of Jerusalem, Like as the Hart and House of the Mind by Herbert Howells; none of which have been recorded before in these brilliant string and organ arrangements, by Dr Jonathan Clinch, Howard Eckdahl and Herbert Howells himself.
PRESTO MUSIC – An Online Interview by David Smith
British composer Ian Venables has established himself as something of a spiritual heir to lyrical songwriters of the English school – Butterworth, Quilter, Vaughan Williams and others. While far from averse to composing in other styles, the majority of his performed and recorded works have been in this solo-vocal idiom – so the emergence of his Requiem, premiered in Gloucester Cathedral in 2018, was a pleasant surprise. Fittingly, the choir of the Cathedral also sang on its first recording – bringing a melodious work of quiet profundity to a broader public.
In 2020 I spoke to Ian about the process of writing this work, and the challenges and opportunities it represented for him as a composer; when the orchestral version of the Requiem was released in 2022, we caught up again to talk about that version, the Howells pieces recorded alongside it, and Venables’s own connection with Howells.
To read David Smith’s interview please CLICK here
For Presto Music Click here
Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 150th Anniversary
To mark the 150th birthday of this great English composer in October 2022, Sholto Kynoch the director of The Oxford Lieder Festival programmed in partnership with BBC Radio 3 and BBC New Generation Artists a series of celebratory concerts. The third and final concert included the world premiere of Ian Venables’ song cycle Portraits of a Mind Op.54 commissioned by the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society.
The cycle scored for the same forces as On Wenlock Edge was performed by the acclaimed young tenor, Alessandro Fisher, with the Navarra Quartet and pianist William Vann.
In association with Albion Records Portraits of a Mind was recorded last November by the same artists. The CD also includes RVW’s On Wenlock Edge and Four Hymns: the latter in a new arrangement for piano quintet commissioned by the RVW Society and John Francis, of Albion Records by Ian Farrington. The CD will be released later this year.
For further information and details about Crowd Funding sponsorship please CLICK the following link:https://mailchi.mp/37b570ec643a/serenade?e=15fb578b09
Premiere Recording of ‘Portrait of Janis’ for String Orchestra
Following the first performance of Portrait of Janis Op.9 for string orchestra at Lancaster House given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Michael Poll the work was later recorded and it will be released on CD by Orchid Classics later this year.
British Music Festival in Taiwan
The young prize-winning Taiwanese violinist Chu-Yu-Yang is the director of the first British Music Festival to be held in Taiwan. Two concerts of British music have been programmed that will include violin and piano by music by Ireland, Holst, Bliss, Gurney, Delius and a performance of Venables’ Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 23. The pianist for both concerts is Ya-Wen Chang.
The Cherwell Music Society perform the composer’s Requiem Op.48
1st April at St Mary’s Church, Bloxham
at 7.30 pm
Conducted by Dr Paul Hedley and accompanied by organist Jonathan Hope this concert also includes a performance of Michael Tippet’s Five Spirituals.
For further details please visit: www.cherwellchoral.org
A Celebration of Twentieth Century English Composers
By Stephen H. Smith.
Following a discussion about the definition of ‘English Music’ Stephen H. Smith explores the shortlist of composers who should be considered to be included in the Pantheon, as well as any omissions from such a selection. The book then gives a short history of English music from the nineteenth to twentieth century. The main body of the book – the composer survey – is divided into three subsections: Progenitors of the English Musical Renaissance (Parry and Stanford); Ten of the Best (the author’s choice of England’s “top” twentieth-century composers); and The Best of the Rest (fifty entries on other English composers, in alphabetical order, including several overlooked ones with a nevertheless powerfully distinctive musical voice). A final section explores alternative ways of accessing the music along with their pros and cons. With a bibliography and discography to accompany each entry, a general bibliography and an appendix on the mystery surrounding the fate of E.J. Moeran’s ‘Second Symphony’, Albion’s Glory gives a complete overview of the history of English music and the composers who brought it to life. I was thrilled to discover that I had been included in “The Best of the Rest” section of this book.