Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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IAN VENABLES The Songs of Ian Venables - 16 songs   Kevin Mclean-Mair (tenor) Graham Lloyd (piano) Emerald String Quartet recorded July 1997 and 1998 ENIGMA DIGITAL ED10045 [70.22]

The CD is available at £12.00 each from Audiosonic, 6 College Street, Gloucester. Phone: 01452 302280; fax: 01452 302202



Invite to Eternity (song cycle for tenor and string quartet - four songs)
Love's Voice (song cycle for tenor and piano - four songs)
Acton Burnell for tenor, viola and piano
seven other songs for tenor and piano

Ian Venables was a pupil of Richard Arnell at Trinity College of Music and John Joubert at Birmingham. In addition to his many vocal settings exploring the poetry of the British lyric mainstream he has written a piano quintet and a considerable amount of chamber music.

The first cycle's contribution from the string quartet is written in a language that is familiar from the works of Shostakovich and Herbert Howells - a strange juxtaposition you may think but by no means odd here. The songs, which are settings of John Clare, deal with stillness, and supernally dazzling summers. Peter Warlock's witchery music from The Curlew must have been an influence in the case of the second song while Russian Easter Festival brightness pervades the third song and a coursingly mournful passion concludes the last song.

The other songs are extremely imaginative and are artfully touching. Venables has inherited the cloak of C W Orr, Gerald Finzi, Robin Milford and Herbert Howells in his word setting. The music of At Malvern is all moonlight and the lapping of cool waters. The Fortunate Isles the first of the Love's Voice cycle (setting John Addington Symonds) rocks in sleepy dream-glory.

The spate of poetic coups, one after the other, is remarkable and it is pointless to catalogue them all here. Suffice to say that Venables is a sincere new voice adding warm lustre to the roll of British lyric song writers. His talent is not a slender one but one of encouraging span and depth.

In this disc Venables music is helped enormously by the rare voice of Kevin Mclean-Mair whose steady tenor, appealing throatiness, tawny vocal colouring and perfect enunciation are out of the all-too rare school of Ian Partridge and Gerald English.

Full texts and notes. The production, booklet and technical aspects are all highly professional which has a definite Hyperion look to it - indeed it would not have been out of place in their catalogue - such is its quality.

The strongest recommendation for a disc that will be a sure-fire winner with those who love their Moeran, Vaughan Williams, Orr or Butterworth.


Rob Barnett

The CD is available at £12.00 each from Audiosonic, 6 College Street, Gloucester. Phone: 01452 302280; fax: 01452 302202

Ian Venables can be contacted at Enigma Publications, Turrall House, 2 Turrall Street, Barbourne, Worcester WR3 8AJ. Phone: 01905 611570

Note: since writing this review I have also heard Venables' Piano Quintet Op. 27 and the String Quartet Op. 32. Venables proves himself a sturdy melodist writing in the craggiest romantic vein. In him various voices mix, blend, synthesise into a distinctive and burningly intense melos. What are these voices?

Well, in the Quintet they are Finzi, Ravel, Rózsa, Howells (his piano quartet is surely an influence) and Bax (his own 1915 piano quintet - a pinnacle in the repertoire and a symphony in all but instrumentation). None of this suffocates Venables' own creativity and character. His ability to coin tunes all his own and spin them in magical veils of passion and sorrow is undoubted. The first movement and the finale sometimes display the character of Hungarian folk music - Kodaly rather than Bartók.

The string quartet on the other hand offers a superficially thorny facade but glowing beneath it is a work of some passion. Here Ravel (the string quartet), Bartók and Shostakovich are the voices I detect. When Venables leads you to a fine tune, as he does in the middle movement, it is no routine exercise.

When will someone record him commercially?

I commend this composer very strongly indeed. You will know from my description whether you will like this composer's music. RB


Rob Barnett

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