Ian Venables (b.1955): Complete Works for Solo Piano / Graham J. Lloyd


I've listened to this CD many times and have enjoyed it more on each successive hearing. There is much beautiful music here. When it came time to select a track to feature as a sample, it wasn't easy because I have many favorites. This New Naxos CD contains the complete solo piano music of Ian Venables, who was born in Liverpool in 1956. Four of the six pieces appear here as world premiere recordings, and it is all beautifully performed by pianist Graham J. Lloyd.

A highly respected composer of art songs (BBC Music wrote "a song composer as fine as Finzi and Gurney"), Venables' melodic and expressive gifts are also integral to the whole of his output for solo piano. His considerable experience setting words to music is heard in these piano pieces as a remarkable economy and sincerity of expression. Textures are often very simple, sometimes stark. His alluring harmonies flow and unfold with an impressionistic atmosphere, yet there can be a romantic sweep to the music at times as well. Two composers that came to mind repeatedly as I listened to Venables' piano music were Villa-Lobos and Ravel.

Poetic and highly evocative, the music is at turns, poignant, euphoric, wistful and whimsical. You feel as though there is a narrative behind it; a story is being told. If you were unfamiliar with the composer and listening to this for the first time, it might be difficult to guess what region of the world it comes from, or for that matter, the period of time. In the album notes, Mr. Venables describes The Grotto from The Stourhead Follies as "feelings and changing moods of structures that find themselves out of time and place ..." This characterization seems fitting to much of the music here.

In the end, I went with the opening work on the album to provide as a sample. Hopefully you have been enjoying it, and are forming your own favorable impression. Courtesy of Naxos, it is the Caprice, Op. 35, and even though the music comes from a broad period of time (between 1975 and 2001), in terms of how tonal or dissonant it is, the Caprice fairly characterizes all of the music on this excellent CD.

The performance in this video is by pianist Suzanne Leslie, and is the opening movement to the second work on this Naxos CD, Temple to Apollo from The Stourhead Follies