Rhapsody, by Joe Riley

by Joe Riley
October 2002

Contemporary Liverpool composers of so-called ‘classical’ music are a rare commodity. With the exception of John McCabe, Steve Martland and perhaps Kenneth Hesketh, I doubt if all but the most avid concert-goer could name any more. But they are out there, some further away than others.

Ian Venables, whose songs and piano music are available on CD, lives in Worcester and has been increasingly associated with the famous Three Choirs Festival. His only organ work, a Rhapsody in homage to the greatest of English 20th century church composers, Herbert Howells, found a central platform in Ian Tracey’s recital marking the 76th anniversary of Liverpool Cathedral’s mighty instrument.

Venables’ chromatically intense discourse, never the less led by a strongly lyrical line, requires a large acoustic and a beefy registration. Liverpool provides the ideal combination: When it’s an emotive tidal wave of power that’s required, then there is no UK instrument capable of competing. It’s guaranteed that the Rhapsody’s premiere at Worcester Cathedral, and subsequent airing at King’s College, Cambridge, will not have stood comparision with Saturday’s reading by Ian Tracey, who was incidentally Venables’ first organ tutor.