Canzonetta Op.44, by Christopher Morley

The Birmingham Post, 3rd April 2014
Performers: Timothy Orpen (clarinet) and the Cavaleri String Quartet
Venue: The Artrix, Bromsgrove:
Rating: *****

Why does so much contemporary music have to blind us with science? Is it a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes? All too often the glitterati (and let’s be honest, metropolis-based) rush to gush over music-peddlers who obfuscate with non-existent time-signatures, rhythmic divisions which would need a calculator to sort out, and which the listening ear cannot in any case discern. And commissions, grants and awards are bestowed because the assessors are all part of the conspiracy, reluctant to be seen out of step.And then you get honest, direct-from-the-heart composers like Ian Venables, certainly not an industry darling, but one whose music makes such a strong impression upon those of us in the regions and abroad (California and Australia, for example) who have been fortunate enough to hear it.

Venables’ music never fails to engage the spirit, and thanks to the Kay Trust contributing towards a joint commission celebrating the 40th anniversary of Droitwich Concert Club and the Golden Anniversary of Bromsgrove Concerts, his latest work, premiered at both societies over last weekend, spoke with an urgency, an assurance of structure, and a generosity of melody which made a huge impression.

His Canzonetta for clarinet and string quartet was perfectly attuned to the medium (Venables always does his homework, so Mozart and Brahms had figured in his studies), and clarinettist Timothy Orpen and the splendid Cavaleri Quartet responded gratefully both to the individual characterisation of their instruments but also to the personality — call and response, melting lyrical harmonisations — the composer drew from the ensemble as a whole.

This is a short work, but in its eight minutes it moves from a gentle, pastoral lament for Huw Ceredig, the Droitwich chairman who was prime mover in the commission but who succumbed to cancer as the commission was gestating, to a life-affirming, joyous conclusion, the sigh ending with a smile.