It is not yet clear that what music of the 21st century needs is a full-on revival of the English pastoral style, but that, amazingly enough, is what you get here. Composer Ian Venables even adopts the old practice of designating his works by opus numbers. Clearly, if you concur with composer Elisabeth Lutyens in designating pastoralism the "cowpat style," this set of works by Venables is not for you. But what's surprising is just how well it works. Venables borrows from several composers, particularly Gerald Finzi, but somehow his style does not come off as a mere rehash, but has an attractive glow of nostalgia. The stronger of the two large song cycles may be The Pine Boughs Past Music, for baritone and piano, Op. 39, which neatly functions as a double tribute to composer-poet Ivor Gurney, one of British music's many casualties of the First World War. Venables sets three texts by Gurney as well as one by Leonard Clark in memoriam for Gurney, and it is here that the subtle layers of his music emerge. The later song cycle The Song of the Severn, Op. 43, setting texts by various poets associated with the River Severn, is also attractive, and don't miss the small gems at the end, such as The Hippo, Op. 33, No. 6, set to a delightful text by the American poet Theodore Roethke ("He lives on carrots, leeks, and hay./He starts to yawn, it takes all day./Some time I think I'll live that way.") Too, some would say that British baritone Roderick Williams could sing a list of URLs and sound good, and here he is absolutely in his element. An attractive blast from the past.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|The Song of the Severn Op. 43 for Baritone, String Quartet and Piano|
|The Pine Boughs Past Music Op. 39 for Baritone and Piano|
|Invite, to Eternity, for voice & string quartet, Op. 31|
|Love's Voice, a song cycle for voice & piano, Op. 22|