Invite to Eternity, by Vikki Clayton

A Review of the Premiere of Invite to Eternity – A Song Cycle for Tenor and String Quartet
by Vikki Clayton

The chosen venue for the World premiere of this performance was the delightful Huntingdon Hall in Worcester. Formerly a Unionist church the building has now been converted to a concert hall and it still retains quaint features such as the original pews (although now fitter with comfy cushions) and family “boxes” complete with tiny entrance flaps.

The event was well attended. I’m not sure how may John Clare members were there as I was lucky enough to have a seat very near the front but I recognised several well-known musicians who had come along for the evening.

It seems that this song cycle came about after Ian Venables was given a copy of “I Am” to read. Shortly after which he was given a commission by Patrick and Brenda Aydon to write music inspired by Clare’s Poetry.

The four chosen poems were:-

Borne upon a Angel’s Breast
Evening Bells
An Invite to Eternity
I Am

The musical settings for these poems were surely some of the best I have ever heard. Ian Venables has captured the very essence of each poem and celebrated it musically. A rare gift and one to be very much enjoyed by the listener. In particular his setting for “I Am” was profoundly moving. The feelings of desolation, anger, self pity and yearning were so strongly evoked by the music that I found myself crying by the end of the piece (much to my partner’s embarrassment). This is not to detract from the other songs which were equally as sympathetic to the poetry, but it’s brave composer who decided to embrace “I Am”.

The musicians who performed these songs were well chosen. The Bochmann String Quartet played throughout the evening with great skill and feeling. The songs were sung by the Tenor Kevin McLean-Mair who delivered them with such clarity and sensitivity that the performance had the feeling of being a tribute to John Clare as much as a presentation of new music. So often when a poem is set to music the poetry and the poet’s intentions are overshadowed or lost within the music, but never throughout this performance did this happen.

As well as the Song Cycle, which for me, at least, was the highlight of the evening, there was an excellent performance of Elgar’s String Quartet in E Minor Op.83 to open and after the interval the quartet was joined by Graham Lloyd at the piano for another remarkable Venables composition “Piano Quintet Opus 27”. Again all music was beautifully performed.

For me, the evening was one of the most exciting and enjoyable I have known. I understand from Ian Venables that a CD will be released after Christmas that will include the song cycle. For those of you who didn’t make it to Worcester to hear this wonderful music I strongly recommend that you get a copy – I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.