Review of Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op.36, by Andrew Clements

Extract from a review of Signum Recording, On Wenlock Edge’

The Guardian, 1 February 2008

Review by Andrew Clements

Ian Venables chose lesser-known Housman verses for his four-song cycle. ‘Oh who is that young sinner’ is a bitter, biting attack on ignorance and prejudice arising from the treatment and trials of Oscar Wilde. Housman, homosexual like Wilde, has his ‘sinner’ arrested because of the colour of his hair. The song has a voice part that varies little, set low in a tenor’s range and repetitive. It is very effective, rising a semitone in the final stanza. On a linked theme, ‘Because I liked you better’, which ends the cycle, is hauntingly sad, inwardly gnawing, showing a side of Housman’s poetry that, as Graham J Lloyd says in his note, has been unexplored by composers’. The setting is touchingly to the point, and Kennedy’s singing is lovely, in gentle contrast to his dark sound in the preceding poem or his intensity in ‘Easter Hymn’, whose jarring instrumental opening introduces a bold setting of the poet’s challenging request, even demand, that God leave Heaven and look at what is happening on earth. Venable’s music is fierce, punching the air, and Kennedy rises to the heightened tension and wide-ranging vocal line. This is a powerful cycle, worth hearing.