Remember This Op.40 – Premiere, by Christopher Morley

The Cheltenham Festival of Music, June 29th 2011

Review by Christopher Morley.

Performers: Allan Clayton, (ten), Caroline MacPhie, (sop), The Elias String Quartet, Tom Poster (pno)

The music of the Worcester-based composer Ian Venables has never failed to grip the listener with its accessibility and ability to communicate, and its fearless use of a tonality we all understand. Frequently working through the vocal medium, his choice of poetic texts has found in him a response which illuminates the message, laying the words so naturally upon the singer, stretching the vocalist whilst never creating impossible demands.

And this was certainly the case for his Remember This, whose premiere last Wednesday launched this year’s Cheltenham Music Festival so triumphantly.

This is a 30-minute setting of Sir Andrew Motion’s elegy on the death of the Queen Mother (though she is never mentioned, so the concept immediately becomes more universal), soprano and tenor (the jointly remarkable, skilful and empathetic Caroline MacPhie and Allan Clayton) singing individual poems until joining, in octave unison or mellifluous counterpoint, for the conclusion.

Its effect was spell-binding, not only thanks to the performances of the soloists, the Elias String Quartet and the pianist Tom Poster (such well-judged, well-placed pianism), but also to the sheer quality of the music itself.

Earlier we had heard MacPhie gloriously radiant in Faure’s La Bonne Chanson, and Clayton so compellingly controlled in Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge, a direct ancestor of what is certainly Venables’ masterpiece at this time. And, as a postscript, Vaughan Williams was discussed in affectionate detail at the Elgar Birthplace in Lower Broadheath on Saturday afternoon, when Michael Kennedy, doyen of music critics and author of so many books on English composers and musical personalities, was interviewed by John Harcup, chairman of the West Midlands branch of the Elgar Society.

Though Elgar, of course, was the chief matter of the conversation.

* Verdict * * * * *