Summer Music Highlights
Celebrating English Song at Tardebigge – The Final Season
After twelve years of celebrating English Song this glorious summer festival has sadly come to an end. The inspiration and driving force behind the festival was its founder, Jennie McGregor-Smith. Since 2004, Tardebigge’s ‘Celebrating English Song’ series became well-established as one of the finest song festivals in the country. Over the years it attracted many of the country’s leading singers and musicians. Jennie McGregor-Smith’s commitment to programming new music led to a number of important commissions and premieres, including in 2005 an arrangement for piano and tenor by Graham.J Lloyd of Ian Venables’ ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’. For this last season Ian Venables was ‘Composer in Residence’.
The first recital was given on the 26th June by the award winning baritone, Benjamin Appl and acclaimed pianist Simon Lepper. Their recital included a performance of three of the composer’s songs from his cycle, The Pine Bough’s Past Music Op. 39.
Writing for the Birmingham Post Richard Bratby said, “Then came a sequence of songs by Ivor Gurney intersperced with songs by Ian Venables on the subject of -or setting poems by – Gurney. It worked well: Venables’ plangent melodies elegantly setting off Gurney’s restless little tone-poems of longing and loss”. Before the recital Ian Venables gave a talk, entitled ‘Finzi on Art Song: a 21st Century Composer’s View’.
The second concert was given on the 17th by Susan Bickley (mezzo) Lousie Williams (viola) and Iain Burnside (piano). Their recital included a performance of the composer’s song Acton Burnell for voice, viola and piano.
The festival concluded on the 28th August with a memorable recital given by Roderick Williams and Susie Allan. “English song doesn’t get better that this” was a comment from a member of the audience. Their programme spanned the whole of 20th century and featured songs from some of England’s greatest song composers, including Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Gurney, Ireland Quilter, Warlock, Moeran, Finzi, Britten. As the only living composer on the programme, Ian Venables was represented by two of his best known songs, A Kiss and Flying Crooked. Ian Venables also gave a pre-concert talk entitled, ‘The Art of Song Writing: a Life’s Work’.
30th June first performance of ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’
“The latest offering from Ian Venables has surpassed even his own amazingly high benchmark” – Birmingham Post
The Royal Grammar School, Worcester hosted the premiere of Ian Venables’ new song cycle Through These Pale Cold Days. This five movement song cycle for tenor, viola and piano, written in commemoration of the 1st WW was commissioned by the Limoges Trust. The work is dedicated to Worcestershire Regiment and the old boy of RGS who gave their lives in the Great War. The premiere was given in the context of a special concert held to mark on the centenary of Battle of the Somme. The performers were, Nick Pritchard (tenor), Louise Williams (viola) and Benjamin Frith (piano).
Writing in the Birmingham Post Christopher Morley said, “communication has always been one of the strong points of Venables’ music, direct, unfussy, and somehow cutting directly to the heart. Here an abundance of telling melodic devices combines with harmonic anger and subtle commentary, all conveyed over a merciless tread, now martial, now the beating of a fragile heart, which underpins the unstoppable and unspeakable horror of what our soldiers faced a century ago. Venables’ pen was grim and ironic in Wilfred Owen’s “The Send-Off”, laconically grief-stricken in Francis St Vincent Morris’ “Procrastination”, numbing in Isaac Rosenberg’s “Through the Pale Cold Days”, desperately extrovert in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Suicide in the Trenches”, leading directly into the chilled visionariness of Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy’s “If You Forget”.
Song – ‘The Send Off’ – Audio Extract
BBC Radio 3 ‘In Tune’ – Monday 27th June
Ian Venables was a special guest on Sean Rafferty’s programme ‘In Tune’. Sean discussed with the the composer his new song cycle ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’ ahead of its premiere on the 30th June. The programme also featured an on air performance of the first two songs from the cycle – settings of Wilfred Owen and Francis St Vincent Morris. They were performed by Nick Pritchard (tenor), Louise Williams (viola) and Benjamin Frith (piano).
The programme will be available for the next three week on the BBC’s iPlayer and can be heard by accessing the following link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07h6dz2
30th June – World Premiere of ‘Through These Pale Cold Days’ Op.46
A cycle of 1st WW settings for tenor, viola and piano given by
Nick Pritchard (tenor), Louise Williams (viola) and Benjamin Frith (piano)
Ian Venables with The Mayor of Worcester, Paul Denham.
The Royal Grammar School, Worcester is the setting for the premiere of Ian Venables’ 1st WW commemorative song cycle. Commissioned by The Limoges Trust for the City of Worcester this new work will form the centerpiece of a recital given by Nick Pritchard, Louise Williams and Benjamin Frith on the eve of the Battle of the Somme.
Booking for this special concert has now opened and tickets can be obtained from the school’s reception. Tel no: 01905 613391.
In a programme note about the work the composer has written, “Once I had decided upon the cycle’s instrumentation for voice, viola and piano, the usually enjoyable task of finding suitable texts began. I say, usually enjoyable, because the more war poetry I read the more I realised how challenging writing such a work might be. The main difficulty is that the vast majority of war poetry is so starkly realistic and uncompromising. Perhaps, this is why there have been few WW1 poems set to music. It is for this reason I began to question whether setting such words to music might be an affront to the poetry itself. Fortunately, these thoughts were soon dispelled when I found a number of poems that dealt with ‘themes’ that might have resonance for a contemporary audience – one that is looking back on an event that has now passed into history. These ‘themes’ touch upon the universality of loss, love, and personal identity and so lifts the poetry out of the arena of war and brings it within the compass of personal experience.
A performance of the composer’s Three Pieces for Violin and Piano
given by Midori Komachi and Simon Callaghan.
The Ivor Gurney Society Spring Weekend Event held in Churchdown, Gloucestershire was the venue for a performance of the composer’s Three Pieces for Violin and Piano OP.11. Midori Komachi (violin) and Simon Callaghan (piano) gave a memorable recital that included the premiere of Ivor Gurney’s Violin Sonata in F (slow movement)
The Paris Premiere of the composer’s Piano Sonata Op.1 given by Patrick Hemmerlé
On the 26th April acclaimed French pianist Patrick Hemmerlé gave the Paris premiere of the composer’s early piano sonata. The performance took place at the Concours Festival of modern piano music.
Michael Bywater on Ian Venables at 60 – the Englishness of an English Composer
“… Britain’s greatest living composer of art songs…” Musical Opinion.
“… a true heir to Britten, to Finzi, Gurney, Vaughan Williams and other masters of the art of setting the English language to music in the last century…” Editorial, Musical Opinion.
“… If there is such a thing as English Music, then Ian Venables is its foremost living master. And if you listen to his work, you will hear with your own ears that there is such a thing. Yes, that is begging the question. But the answer is as clear and eloquent as his music, and we are lucky to have him among us…” Michael Bywater.
To read Michael Bywater’s article please go to: http://www.musicalopinion.com
BBC VOCAL DISC OF THE MONTH – THE SONG OF THE SEVERN – SIGNUM RECORDS
Ian Venables deserves, and receives, fine performances says George Hall
The latest BBC Magazine has awarded Signum Records recent CD release of Ian Venables’ songs, vocal disc of the month. The review entitled ‘The Spirit of the Cotswolds’ is by George Hall. Here are a few choice quotes. “The music of Ian Venables is extraordinary”.
“… settings of Hardy’s A Kiss, Tennyson’s Break, break ,break, and Gurney’s Soft Rain – are superb…” “They find in Roderick William a deeply sympathetic interpreter, who lavished as much attention on the words as the notes. Graham J Lloyd is the technically adroit, musically sensitive accompanist, while the Carducci String Quartet – involved in several individual songs, as well as the above – mentioned cycle – are exemplary in their interpretations…”
‘The Song of the Severn’ – CD Review by Andrew Achenbach
“… sharply memorable music of bewitching lyricism, idiomatic grace and rapt instinct…”
Andrew Achenbach writing in this month’s Gramophone said…”we also get a sequence of nine exquisite songs… each of which demonstrate Venables’s unfailing ability to illuminate the text, indisputable flair for melody and impeccable craftsmanship…”
“No lover of the early – 20th- century English art song… tradition should fail to investigate this notable issue…”
” …With The Song of the Severn, … Venables has penned an immortal work of genius. These five songs … are absolutely stunning in their poignant beauty, their profoundly noble and moving sense of tragedy and desolation that never turns sentimental or lachrymose, and their perfect union of text and music to a level that rivals Schubert and Mahler…”
A NEW SIGNUM CD RECORDING – THE SONG OF THE SEVERN
Song cycles and Songs performed by Roderick Williams, The Carducci String Quartet, and pianist Graham.J Lloyd
“Convincing and Yearning” – Andrew Clements, The Guardian
“Ian Venables’ music is unashamedly rooted in the English pastoral tradition. With their gently arcing diatonic melodies, spiced by the occasional passing dissonance, and meticulous attention to the detail of every word of the English poetry they use…”
Ian Venables’ reputation as ‘one of the finest song composers of his generation’ (BBC Music Magazine) finds voice in this disc of premiere recordings of two of his substantial song cycles. International baritone, Roderick Williams is joined by the Carducci String Quartet and pianist Graham J Lloyd in ‘The Song of the Severn’, a celebration of Venables’ home county of Worcestershire, and ‘The Pine Boughs Past Music’, a poignant tribute to the poetic talents of Ivor Gurney. Other songs include those with solo piano and arrangements by Graham J Lloyd, for string quartet. Each work highlights Venables’ gift of being able to take poetry to a higher level of appreciation and at the same time create works of lasting beauty.
THIS CD IS NOW AVAILABLE – PLEASE CLICK HERE