Ian Venables’ Songs, by Bill Marsh

A Review of the Composer’s Songs
By Bill Marsh

Ian Venables is a bright star among young British composers whose music has a singular voice which does not jar! Nora Sirbaugh sang a couple of Ian’s songs several years ago and last May the Delius Society presented the U.S. premiere of the Rhapsody for Organ, Op 25 (“In Memoriam Herbert Howells”) played by Michael Stairs at Longwood Gardens. Some of us heard even more Venables at the 1998 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester and there was more still in 1999 at Worcester.

I found the songs especially attractive and was pleased to discuss this recording with both Graham Lloyd and Ian Venables by phone after listening to it. We all agree on some basic points, I think. Most of the program was recorded in July, 1997, but the Op. 30 and Op. 31 come from a live performance on July 30, 1998. The fourth and last number of the cycle, I am, is the best. Beautiful quartet accompaniment and the tenor’s best effort in this piece. Overall, there is a hint of Britten in this work with perhaps a touch of Finzi.

The rest of the program is excellent including the Op. 30 recorded live at the same concert as the string quartet cycle. A Kiss is a Thomas Hardy setting, and here and there is fine piano sound from Graham Lloyd’s Steinway and much more colour to McLean-Mair’s voice. If this song is a winner, then so is the Easter Song and the four songs comprising Love’s Voice. The latter is a real find, and you will enjoy repeated listenings. Acton Burnell is a setting of Rennie Parker’s poem about the decline of the first site of the first English Parliament. It is dedicated to Anthony Boden, author and now retired head of the Gloucester Three Choirs Festival. Do send for this CD. Note that Enigma is a private label produced by Ian Venables and is not the same as the former British label of the same name. There are extensive, excellent notes by Graham Lloyd and full texts. The CD was made with the support of the Limoges Trust to whom we can be thankful.