‘Remember This’ premiere at Cheltenham

The Gloucestershire Echo, Thursday, June 30, 2011
Review by Roger Jones

The Queen Mother was a regular visitor to Cheltenham Racecourse, but as far as I am aware, she never came to a performance at the Cheltenham Music Festival. Yet her spirit was much in evidence at the premiere of Ian Venables’ Remember This during the opening concert of this year’s festival. The work, a cantata, is an arrangement of Sir Andrew Motion’s poem written on the death of the Queen Mother. Four of the poems are elegies which reflect on her death, her lying in state, her funeral procession and her final resting place.

The others are vignettes which touch on aspects of her life, including her love of racing. Indeed, the most striking musical transition occurred when the solemn music of the funeral procession broke into a gallop to depict horses galloping over the downs. There were other lively musical contrasts. These included pictures of salmon swimming, the exuberance of nature and the public service of this much loved figure, and the work was unified by the recurrent Remember This motif.

The singing was shared between the highly accomplished Caroline MacPhie and Allan Clayton with impressive instrumental support from the Elias Quartet and the versatile Tom Poster. This was altogether a moving and thought-provoking piece by Worcestershire-based Venables whose reputation as a song composer is growing.

It surely confirms his place among the pantheon of English song arrangers which includes Gurney, Finzi and Vaughan Williams. Vaughan Williams had featured earlier in this recital with Allan Clayton’s angst-ridden and profoundly moving performance of Housman’s On Wenlock Edge in which the tolling of the death knell on the piano became a persistent feature. This was after Caroline MacPhie had set the standard high with a finely-nuanced performance of Faure’s La Bonne Chanson (settings of poems by Paul Verlaine) in which words and music blended together to great effect.