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 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. [Kennedy’s performance of] 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, BBC Music Magazine, 1/1/2008
...a powerful reading...
Anna Picard, Independent of Sunday, 1/6/2008
Explosive energy, mighty rhetorical gestures and commanding intensity supply this album’s considerabnle hallmarks.... There’s an expressionist wildness about the way Kennedy and his collaborators treat these songs. Listen, for example, to Vaughan Williams’s ‘Bredon Hill’ or Venables’s ‘Easter Hymn’, which speak profoundly of troubled states of mind.
Andrew Stewart, Classic FM magazine, 2/1/2008
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.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 2/1/2008
Ian Venables 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 Oscar 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. Venable’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.
John T Hughes, International Record Review, 2/1/2008
'Venables's Songs of Eternity and Sorrow touch unexpectedly deeply...'
Stephen Pettitt, The Sunday Times, 3/23/2008