Venables: On the Wings of Love, Op. 38

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COMPOSERS: Venables
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: On the Wings of Love, Op. 38; Venetian Songs – Love’s Voice, Op. 22; Songs, Op. 33 (Vitae Summa Brevis; The November Piano; The Hippo; Break, break, break); Songs, Op. 28 (Flying Crooked; At Midnight); Midnight Lamentation, Op. 6; A Kiss, Op. 15; At Malvern, Op. 24
PERFORMER: Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Iain Burnside (piano), Richard Hosford (clarinet)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572514

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This release in Naxos’s English Song Series celebrates the art of Ian Venables, born in Liverpool in 1955, whose work is a continuation of a tradition including Ivor Gurney and Gerald Finzi among its chief 20th-century representatives.

Neither so searching nor as original in terms of its musical language as either Britten or Tippett, let alone more recent figures, Venables yet more importantly manages to create worthwhile new artefacts within his conservative idiom. Expertly crafted, the results offer something genuinely personal and at times profound.

Of the two major cycles here, On the Wings of Love (2006) adds a clarinet obbligato to the statutory voice/piano partnership. Richard Hosford is exemplary here in capturing and amplifying the mood of each song, memorably so in the long, lovely introduction to the Yeats setting, ‘When you are Old’.

The Venetian Songs (1995) comprise four settings of the Victorian writer John Addington Symonds, on whom Venables is as acknowledged expert, and whose At Malvern inspired Venables’s separate, haunting and indeed hypnotic 1998 song – one of the finest things here.

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But the clattering piano in Tennyson’s ‘Break, break, break’ (from the Op. 33 collection) and the imaginative Hardy setting A Kiss are also remarkable. Andrew Kennedy is the expressive, articulate tenor, and pianist Iain Burnside the outstanding accompanist. George Hall