Portraits of a Mind

Ian Venables and Ralph Vaughan Williams

Vaughan Williams: On Wenlock Edge
Venables: Portraits of a Mind
Vaughan Williams: Four Hymns

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.   

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 first performance was given at the Oxford Lieder Festival on 21 October 2022 and broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Given a relatively free hand, Ian Venables chose to compose a song cycle for tenor, piano and string quartet – the same forces for Vaughan Williams’s celebrated cycle of Housman poems On Wenlock Edge. These two works thus became natural companion pieces both for that first concert and this album.


William Vann, Annabelle Meare, Benjamin Gilmore, Ian Venables, Brian O’Kane, Sascha Bota, Alessandro Fisher

It was discovered that a version of Vaughan William’s Four Hymns – normally for tenor, viola obbligato and either a piano or a small string orchestra – had been made in 1925 for tenor, piano and quartet; Steuart Wilson performed it with Anthony Bernard and the Snow Quartet. We do not know who made that arrangement – it could well have been Vaughan Williams – but it did not survive. The Ralph Vaughan Williams Society commissioned Iain Farrington to make a new arrangement in this format so that the album can be completed with the same artists.

Ian Venables studied composition with Richard Arnell at Trinity College of Music, London and later with John Joubert, Andrew Downes and John Mayer at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Described as ‘Britain’s greatest living composer of art song’ (Musical Opinion) and ‘a song composer as fine as Finzi and Gurney’ (BBC Music Magazine), Venables has written over 80 works in this genre, including eight song-cycles. Beyond the world of art-song he has written many chamber works that include a Piano Quintet Op. 27 and a String Quartet Op.32, as well as smaller pieces for solo instruments and piano. His most recent large-scale choral work is a Requiem, which has been recorded by both Gloucester Cathedral Choir and Merton College Choir Oxford, the latter in an orchestral version. Venables is President of the Arthur Bliss Society, a Vice-President of the Gloucester Music Society, Chairman of the Ivor Gurney Society and an Honorary Fellow of Exeter University. His music is published by Novello (Wise Music Group) and has been recorded on the Regent, Somm, Signum, Naxos and Delphian labels. For information about his music please visit www.ianvenables.com or www.wisemusicclassical.com

Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, composer and arranger. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at Cambridge University. Iain has performed as a soloist, accompanist and chamber musician at all the major UK venues, as well as in the USA, Japan, South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong and all across Europe. Iain has accompanied a number of leading musicians, including Bryn Terfel, Willard White, Lesley Garrett, and gives frequent broadcasts on BBC Radio Three. He performed at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with Rowan Atkinson, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle. He has composed orchestral, choral and instrumental pieces, including several orchestral works for the BBC Proms, including A Party with Auntie (2022), Beethoveniana (2020), Gershwinicity (2018). Iain has arranged hundreds of works in many styles, including opera, instrumental and choral, African songs, cabaret, klezmer, jazz and pop. He has arranged and performed most of the Mahler Symphonies for piano solo. His chamber orchestrations of the symphonic repertoire are regularly performed around the world, and he is the Arranger in Residence of Aurora Orchestra.

Alessandro Fisher read Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge, where he was a Choral Scholar at Clare College, furthering his studies at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. After winning First Prize at the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Awards, he was a member of the BBC New Generation Artist Scheme between 2018 and 2021. He holds a 2022 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, and is an Associate Artist of The Mozartists. Operatic roles have taken in the Glyndebourne and Salzburg Festivals, Garsington Opera, and Covent Garden. A keen recitalist, Alessandro has performed at the Wigmore and Stoller Halls, as well as giving multiple performances at the Oxford Lieder Festival, the Leeds Lieder Festival, and the London Song Festival. He has collaborated with Graham Johnson, Iain Burnside, Roger Vignoles, Anna Tilbrook, Joseph Middleton, and Simon Lepper.”

The London based Navarra Quartet has built an international reputation as one of the most dynamic and poetic string quartets of today. Selected for representation by YCAT (2006-10), they have been awarded the MIDEM Classique Young Artist Award, a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, a Musica Viva tour, and prizes at the Banff, Melbourne and Florence International String Quartet Competitions.

The Navarra Quartet appears regularly at major venues throughout the world including the Wigmore Hall, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, the Sydney Opera House, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Esterházy Palace, Luxembourg Philharmonie, Berlin Konzerthaus, the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, the Lincoln Centre and international festivals such as Lockenhaus, Aldeburgh, Bath, Lammermuir, Presteigne, Bergen, Grachten, Sandviken, Schwetzinger, Rheingau, Heidelberg, Aix-en-Provence, Bellerive, Harrogate Chamber Music and the BBC Proms.

William Vann is a conductor and pianist, recognised for his acclaimed revivals of neglected works of British choral music and song. He was a Chorister at King’s College, Cambridge and a Music Scholar at Bedford School. He read Law at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was taught the piano by Peter Uppard, and studied piano accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music with Malcolm Martineau and Colin Stone. He is a Trustee of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Society, Director of Music at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, founder and Artistic Director of the London English Song Festival and Musical Director of Dulwich Choral Society.

Track list
CD cover

5 World Premières!


VENABLES/VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: PORTRAIT OF A MIND, Navarra Quartet, Alessandra Fisher/Albion Records  It’s an audacious move, coupling Vaughan Williams’ magnificent song cycle On Wenlock Edge with a new piece, Ian Venables’ Portrait of a Mind, but the results have proven very successful. The Vaughan Williams piece is given an exemplary reading with every nuance of Housman’s texts delivered with maximum sympathy, and the Venables vocal work, written in the idiom of RVW, repays repeated listenings. Performances are top-notch.

Barry Forshaw


Apr 18, 2023

Alessandro Fisher tenor
The Navarra String Quartet
William Vann piano

The result from beginning to end is an exceptional recording. Virtually an hour of pure listening pleasure. Ian Venables was the perfect choice of a contemporary composer. His music follows a line of lyrical fully tonal English music established by songwriters Finzi or Gurney, or indeed Vaughan Williams himself….


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.

lan Cooper
British Music Society


This CD is a wonderful, enduring celebration of Ralph Vaughan Williams.

John Quinn
Musicweb International


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 (some may find these a touch reverential; I do not) are near ideal.

Guy Rickards


A new recording of Vaughan Williams’s On Wenlock Edge is included on the disc, and Venables has purposely arranged his song cycle for the same forces of tenor, piano and string quartet. Portraits of a Mind confirms Venables’s reputation as the finest writer of such songs today.

Simon Heffer
The Telegraph

PRICE: £10.99 + post and packing 

(nb. You do not need a Paypal account to purchase)

Postage is fixed at £3 per order – to anywhere in the world – irrespective of the number of CDs in the order.