Vaughan Williams, Venables - Portraits of a Mind | Albion Records ALBCD057

Vaughan Williams, Venables - Portraits of a Mind

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Label: Albion Records

Cat No: ALBCD057

Barcode: 5060158190577

Format: CD

Number of Discs: 1

Genre: Vocal/Choral

Release Date: 19th May 2023



2022 marked Vaughan Williams's 150th birthday, for which The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society commissioned a new work from Ian Venables, one of Britain's most distinguished composers and a master of song composition.

Venables has created a song cycle, Portraits of a Mind, using the same forces (tenor, piano and string quartet) as those specified for Vaughan Williams's song cycle On Wenlock Edge. The work paints a series of five portraits of Vaughan Williams by setting poets associated with him: George Meredith (The Lark Ascending, of course); Ursula Vaughan Williams; Robert Louis Stevenson; Christina Rossetti; and Walt Whitman.

The new work was premiered at The Oxford Lieder Festival in October 2022, and John Quinn (Seen and Heard International) wrote: "These five songs constitute a very fine and eloquent tribute to VW. Venables has achieved a well-deserved reputation as a pre-eminent composer of English song and he proved to be, as I had expected, an ideal choice for this Ralph Vaughan Williams Society commission."

The review continued: "Alessandro Fisher, a past member of the BBC's New Generation Artists scheme (2018-21), made an immediate impression. His ringing voice was ideally suited to the music and I was impressed by the clarity both of his diction and his tone, qualities which were to be a feature of the whole concert." On Wenlock Edge is the ideal companion for this recording - but we knew that Vaughan Williams's Four Hymns were also arranged for tenor, piano and string quartet in 1925, and performed by Steuart Wilson and others.  That score is lost, so we commissioned Iain Farrington to create a modern replacement.

The recording was directed by pianist William Vann, accompanied by the Navarra String Quartet.


The performance of On Wenlock Edge is exemplary, the finest I have heard. The balance of tenor and instrumentalists is sheer perfection. The two voices in the conversation of Is My Team Ploughing by Fisher could not be bettered. His pure tenor rings out every bit as strongly as the bells in Bredon Hill.
British Music Society
The cycle's five songs are exceptionally well sung by Alessandro Fisher, who convincingly encompasses emotions stretching from the balmy pastoralism of the opening ‘The Lark Ascending’ (with chirruping near-quotations from VW), to the pained retrospection of the Rossetti setting ‘Echo’ [...] But it’s Fisher’s On Wenlock Edge which is the true jewel of this particular collection.
BBC Music Magazine
Venables’s strong set is worthy of commemoration for the composer […]. The result is an original and beautifully balanced cycle that, frankly, would grace any recital or recording. It receives a marvellous rendition from Fisher, and the accompaniments by the Navarra Quartet and William Vann.
Ian Venables has lived and breathed the elder composer’s music for most of his life. I think that he truly has absorbed the essence of RVW’s aesthetic.
MusicWeb International
Venables’s settings are exemplary for their sensitivity to the chosen texts and ability to underline and illuminate their meanings, and Fisher is an ideal vocal exponent thrilling in the sensitivity as well as the sheer beauty of his singing.
On Wenlock Edge has been in the back pocket of just about every major British tenor of the last century and in the last fifty years many of them have made recordings too. […] But none have quite the expressive range of Fisher which – bold statement though this is – strikes me as the more complete and compelling performance I have heard.
MusicWeb International

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