VENABLES Below the Belt
If you only buy one classical disc advocating LSD and sodomy, make it this one. Philip Venables’s debut disc appears following the success of his opera 4.48 Psychosis and his subsequently signing with Ricordi. It’s a multifarious brew, giving the taste of a refreshing new voice (though the sometimes scurrilous content won’t be for everyone). Sparseness, queerness and surrealism are constant, and text is prominent.
The Revenge of Miguel Cotto for two male voices and ensemble is a work about boxing. Across five movements, Steven J Fowler’s opaque text alternates in spoken meditations and violent ejaculations. Amid the brutality – in the second movement the percussionists hit punchbags – is beauty; the fourth movement presents wistful vibrato strings over pedal trombone. The first Numbers piece opens with the statement ‘she sculpted the head of the Marquis de Sade from wasps’ and takes off from there, Simon Howard’s spoken text alternating with string quartet. The second Numbers piece features a male narrator recounting a lonely tale to deft touches of flute and harp; in the manner of Krapp’s Last Tape, we then hear his voice playing through a crackly tape recorder.
By contrast, Klaviertrio im Geiste is a rather straightforward intervention on Beethoven’s eponymous trio. Over four movements (one of them silent), Venables uses pitch material from the Beethoven to create a serene miniature, faded yet lustrous. Four brief Metamorphoses after Britten (played here by solo oboe), similar in style, serve as interludes between the larger works.
Venables’s weirdness is rarely gratuitous. There is pathos and the music is in the British suburban surrealist lineage of JG Ballard and Mark E Smith. Closing the disc is Illusions for speaker and ensemble, an unholy screed of lounge muzak and glitch on a cruise ship sailing the Styx. Performance artist David Hoyle rails against hypocrisy and venality in amusing fashion. ‘The media shits into your brain’, is one of his bons mots. Bathetic and compelling, it’s performed with a punch.