On Wenlock Edge

£12.00

Andrew Kennedy performs Vaughan Williams’ great and innovative work, On Wenlock Edge, nearly one hundred years after its premiere performance in 1909. Written for tenor, piano and string quartet Williams explored a chamber combination previously unexplored by other English composers.

Followed by Ludlow & Teme and Songs of Eternity & Sorrow Op.36 by Ivor Gurney & Ian Venables, this disc provides the listener with renditions from three great English composers ranging from the late nineteenth- century to the present day, performed beautifully by Andrew Kennedy, Simon Crawford-Phillips & the Dante Quartet.

Andrew Kennedy Dante Quartet Simon Crawford-Phillips
SKU: SIGCD112

What people are saying

"Kennedy has a big, bright, expressive tenor voice and uses it with fervour, delicacy and imagination … A thoughtfully realised recital"

The Independent on Sunday

   

"Kennedy’s young tenor sounds utterly at ease in this CD of Housman settings by Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney and Ian Venables … his musicianship is appealing, and the Dante Quartet accompany with gusto"

The Times

     

"The first of what I hope will be a flood of Vaughan Williams CDs to mark the 50th anniversary of his death has arrived, and very fine it is too … Kennedy copes marvellously with the music’s kaleidoscopic, constantly changing moods … Venables’s four settings come as an unexpected bonus, and cap an outstanding CD no lover of British music should miss"

The Mail on Sunday

       

"Venables’ songs are sharply responsive to the weight and meaning of every word, and his style … around Kennedy’s voice like a glove … The tenor handles the texts superbly, making every word perfectly clear"

The Guardian

         

"Kennedy produces enough vocal strength and projection and in the whole cycle finds variety of colour and volume to differentiate among the seven songs … His singing of ‘Bredon Hill’ is clear and fresh until he almost imperceptibly deadens his tone as he tells of the loved one’s funeral: a fine performance, well supported, as elsewhere by Simon Crawford-Phillips and the Dante Quartet … Venables’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. All the participants respond well to its requirements, as they do to the Vaughan Williams and Gurney songs"

International Record Review

Andrew Kennedytenor

Simon Crawford-Phillips – piano
Dante Quartet

Release date:7th Jan 2008
Order code:SIGCD112
Barcode: 635212011225

  1. On Wenlock Edge – On Wenlock Edge – Ralph Vaughan Williams – [3.40]
  2. – From far, from eve and morning – Ralph Vaughan Williams – [2.11]
  3. – Is my team ploughing – Ralph Vaughan Williams – [3.39]
  4. – Oh, when I was in love with you – Ralph Vaughan Williams – [0.44]
  5. – Bredon Hill – Ralph Vaughan Williams – [7.19]
  6. – Clun – Ralph Vaughan Williams – [3.28]
  7. Ludlow & Teme – When smoke stood up from Ludlow – Ivor Gurney – [3.27]
  8. – Fair in a western brookland – Ivor Gurney – [5.08]
  9. – ?Tis time, I think, by Wenlock town – Ivor Gurney – [1.20]
  10. – Ludlow Fair – Ivor Gurney – [2.14]
  11. – On the idle hill of summer – Ivor Gurney – [3.05]
  12. – When I was one and twenty – Ivor Gurney – [1.21]
  13. – The Lent Lily – Ivor Gurney – [3.30]
  14. Songs of Eternity and Sorrow Op.36 – Easter Hymn – Ian Venables – [6.38]
  15. – When green buds hang in the elm like dust – Ian Venables – [3.00]
  16. – Oh who is that young sinner? – Ian Venables – [2.33]
  17. – Because I liked you better – Ian Venables – [4.25]

The Independent on Sunday, 6th January 2008

Though 2008 is set to be the year we reassess Vaughan Williams as a symphonist, Andrew Kennedy’s beautiful recording of the song cycle ‘On Wenlock Edge’ should not be neglected. Kennedy has a big, bright, expressive tenor voice and uses it with fervour, delicacy and imagination. Accompanied by pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips and the Dante Quartet, he emphasises the tragedy and tenderness in the poems. Ivor Gurney’s wistful ‘Ludlow and Theme’, written after the composer’s first nervous collapse, is given a similarly powerful reading, as is Ian Venables’s ‘Songs of Eternity and Sorrow’. A thoughtfully realised recital.

Anna Picard

The Times, 4th January 2008, ***

Kennedy’s young tenor sounds utterly at ease in this CD of Housman settings by Vaughan Williams, Ivor Gurney and Ian Venables. Too at ease, indeed, for every drop of anguish and melancholy to sound. But his musicianship is appealing, and the Dante Quartet accompany with gusto. Venables’s set presents different sides of the poet: tart-tongued, homosexual.

Geoff Brown

The Mail on Sunday, January 2008

The first of what I hope will be a flood of Vaughan Williams CDs to mark the 50th anniversary of his death has arrived, and very fine it is too. The young tenor Andrew Kennedy has been making quite a name for himself in opera, oratorio and song, but it’s in the last that he makes the greatest impact.

And the impression is confirmed by this recital of A.E. Housman settings by Vaughan Williams, as well as Ivor Gurney, one of British music’s most tragic figures, and the contemporary composer Ian Venables, now in his early 50s.

Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge, with six poems from Housman’s most celebrated collection, A Shropshire Lad, was composed in the immediate aftermath of Vaughan Williams’s return from three months of lessons with Ravel, and was premiered to great acclaim at the Aeolian Hall (now the Wigmore) in November 1909. It is one of his breakthrough works, reflecting a new confidence in his powers that led the following year to The Sea Symphony and the Tallis Fantasia finally making his reputation.

The setting for tenor, piano and sting quartet is unusual, and the string writing introduces a pleasing Gallic influence into Vaughan Williams’s quintessentially English musical imagination.

Housman disliked composers messing around with his poetry, but several besides Williams did so because the straightforward bucolic structure of the poetry is underpinned by so many insights into the human condition that the musical challenge of responding to so much complexity was irresistible.

Kennedy copes marvellously with the music’s kaleidoscopic, constantly changing moods. He is well supported by the pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips and by the Dante Quartet, although their playing has an edge that is occasionally a bit wearing.

Ivor Gurney served with distinction in the Great War, but shellshock and war wounds exacerbated a mental fragility that ultimately led to him being confined to an asylum in 1922 where he died 15 years later, still only in his mid ’40s. He was a composer of great promise, as is obvious in his cycle, Ludlow And Teme; seven settings of other poems from A Shropshire Lad.

Gurney wrote these after studying with Williams at the Royal College of Music in 1919, and he employs the same forces. His response is freer, less disciplined than Vaughan Williams and open to the criticism advanced in his own lifetime that some of the music ‘rambles like an unkempt English hedgerow’. But Kennedy makes it memorable in its own way.

Ian Venables chooses some less well known Housman, including ‘Because I Liked You Better’, where the poet reflects on his own homosexuality. Venables’s four settings come as an unexpected bonus, and cap an outstanding CD no lover of British music should miss.

David Mellor

BBC Music Magazine, January 2008
Performance ****, Sound ****

Housman’s lyrics, deceptively simple in style yet emotionally charged, have always attracted composers – ironically so, because having his verses set enraged the poet. These three cycles represent the intriguingly different responses – the Vaughan Williams the most profound and dramatic; the Gurney musically more straightforward, though shot with terrible unease. The Venables, premiered by Kennedy in 2004, follows the others rather well, its idiom (deliberately, perhaps) quite similar; its emotional tone, more aware of Housman’s homosexual subtexts, brings out his brittle acidity, and the protesting irony of ‘Oh who is that young sinner’.

The three make an interesting programme, and with so many excellent versions of On Wenlock Edge, that’s an important element of choice. Among tenors I’d favour Ian Partridge (on EMI, though alas currently deleted), James Gilchrist (available on Linn, also offering the Gurney), and, with orchestra, Robert Tear and Ian Bostridge (both on EMI); but Kennedy is by no means out of the running. He proves himself a rising star with performances keenly sung if occasionally, rather mannered supported by Simon Crawford-Philips and the Dante players. He could have used more variety of expression – more of Bostridge’s angst in the title song, and Tear’s brash bounce in ‘Oh when I was in love with you’, for example – but he captures the eerie pathos of ‘Is my team ploughing?’ and ‘Bredon’ very finely. If anything he’s more eloquent in the Gurney, notably the bitter ironies of ‘Ludlow Fair’; and Venables’ mordant ‘Easter Hymn’ and forlorn ‘Because I liked you better’ are distinctly telling. If the Venables appeals, these are striking performances.

Michael Scott Rohan

The Guardian, 1st February 2008

Tenor Andrew Kennedy’s collection of AE Housman settings ranges from the most familiar of all to the nearly new. The six songs that make up Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge, and Ivor Gurney’s seven settings for the same combination of voice, piano and string quartet in Ludlow and Teme, take poems from A Shropshire Lad.

While Ian Venables’s 2004 cycle mirrors that instrumentation, it uses texts from a posthumously published selection of Housman’s early poems. Venables’ songs are sharply responsive to the weight and meaning of every word, and his style, owing a little to Britten but much more to Finzi and the English pastoralists, wraps around Kennedy’s voice like a glove.

The tenor handles the texts superbly, making every word perfectly clear. However, he does not quite capture the delicate balance between raptness and rapture in the Vaughan Williams, nor the full weight of the sadness behind Gurney’s superficially more straightforward songs. It’s still a satisfyingly well-conceived recital, though.

Andrew Clements

International Record Review, February 2008

When I was a boy I came across John Drinkwater’s poem Mamble, a place ‘that lies above the Teme’, the Teme being the river that flows through Ludlow and Shropshire. Many years later, I heard Ivor Gurney’s song-cycle Ludlow and Teme, to poems by A. E. Housman.

It is one of three Housman-based cycles on this disc. Even some of the titles are poetic in themselves, such as ‘On the idle hill of summer’, though there is nothing pleasant in its context, telling of ‘the bones of comrades slain/Lovely lads and dead and rotten’. In the nostalgic ‘Far in a western brookland’, Andrew Kennedy captures the man’s longing to be back there instead of living alone in London. Draining his tone of much of its fullness, he conveys an empty yearning over the somewhat doleful strains of the string quartet. It is slow but nicely placed. In the frisky ‘Tis time, I think, by Wenlock Town’, Kennedy unfortunately swallows the first word of each of the middle lines of the third stanza. ‘Ludlow Fair’, Gurney’s setting of The lads in their hundreds, is bolder, more boisterous than Butterworth’s lovely version, concentrating on present pleasures rather than future, when they will ‘die in their glory and never grow old’. Butterworth’s tune is sadder at the relevant part. Kennedy produces enough vocal strength and projection and in the whole cycle finds variety of colour and volume to differentiate among the seven songs.

Performed more often is Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge. Kennedy’s light touch in ‘From far, from eve and morning’ is just right. He supplies contrast between the dead and the living in ‘Is my team ploughing’, but his dead man may strike some as hearty rather than ‘thin and pine’ at the final question, with the contrast between enquiry and reply insufficient. I wonder why he decided to use full voice here. His singing of ‘Bredon Hill’ is clear and fresh until he almost imperceptibly deadens his tone as he tells of the loved one’s funeral: a fine performance, well supported, as elsewhere by Simon Crawford-Phillips and the Dante Quartet.

Ian Venables (b. 1955) 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 Orcar 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. Venables’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. All the participants respond well to its requirements, as they do to the Vaughan Williams and Gurney songs.

John T. Hughes

Gramophone, April 2008

Once again we have a recital disc perfectly recommendable in itself but issued so closely after another with a very similar programme that a critic’s first duty is to draw attention to the other version and review with that also in mind. On Wenlock Edge and Ludlow and Teme were coupled by James Gilchrist with Anna Tilbrook and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet (Linn, 9/07), who included The Curlew by Warlock and Bliss’s Elegiac Sonnet. In place of those, this new recording offers a set of four songs by Ian Venables.

Under the title Songs of Eternity and Sorrow, Venables selects four of the posthumously published poems of Housman, employing the same combination of voice and instruments as Vaughan Williams and Gurney. The settings are as strong as the poems, and that is saying much. All are intensely felt, two of them fiercely so. The third, "Oh who is that young sinner?" is formally the scherzo, but its subject (in the refrain "Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair") clearly has the fate of Oscar Wilde in mind. Venables writes with passion, and the performances catch his intentions faithfully.

Ludlow and Teme is similarly well served and is at no disadvantage when compared with the earlier version. Andrew Kennedy, I find, has the feeling for this more satisfyingly than for the Vaughan Williams. A return to James Gilchrist’s recording confirms its superiority in that work, the singer more imaginatively involved, the playing more finely textured. So choice depends on where the priorities lie. Whatever the answer to that, an acquaintance with Ian Venables’s Op 36 is certainly one worth making.

John Steane