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Paul PATTERSON (b. 1947)
Hellís Angels (1998)
Mass of the Sea (1983)

Helen Meyerhoff (soprano)
Striking Sounds
The Goldberg Quartet
Crouch End Festival Chorus/David Temple
Ann Mackay (soprano)
Christopher Keyte (bass)
Brighton Festival Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Geoffrey Simon
Hellís Angels recorded in All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, November 2001
Mass of the Sea recorded in All Saints church, Mitcham, December, 1986
DEUXĖELLES DXL 1050 [76:00]


I first encountered the music of Paul Patterson when, as a brass band trombonist in my early teens with a voracious (some thought unhealthy!) appetite for new music, I came across the "experimental" works for brass band, Cataclysm and Chromascope. Not long after came Deception Pass, a ten-piece brass work written for the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. At the time, the band pieces in particular fascinated me with their indulgence in colour, imaginative effect and sheer sound for its own sake. Techniques such as "half-valving" abounded and coupled with Pattersonís use of certain aleatoric methods it seemed he was taking the brass band repertoire into unchartered territory. Of course, at the time I had only very limited knowledge of the music of Lutosławski and Penderecki and it was in their work that Paul Pattersonís language was firmly rooted. Looking back on these pieces over twenty years on, the impression is that this was music very much of its time. I suspect that they would now sound somewhat dated in concert performance. As we well know the passage of time is not always kind, even in music.

At around the time that I was busy discovering this "new" music however, Patterson was already moving on, no doubt believing that he had exhausted this particular avant-gardist avenue. As a result he was to turn to more familiar harmonic territory and broadly traditional notation, a change that he first embraced on a large scale from around 1980 onwards. The signs of what was to come had already been in evidence prior to this within a number of smaller works. Remnants of his earlier style do still surface in later works, as can be clearly heard in Flood from Mass of the Sea.

The Concerto for Orchestra, premiered in 1981 and available in the EMI British Composers series was one of the first larger scale works to figure following this stylistic change and by the time Patterson came to write the Mass of the Sea in 1983 the change of language had asserted itself still further. What did not change was the sheer facility of Pattersonís scoring, always inventive, imaginative and often teeming with rhythmic energy and momentum. The Mass of the Sea is cast in six sections broadly following the traditional Latin Mass service but substituting for the Credo a devastating depiction of the flood and utilising biblical texts as well as original material by librettist Tim Rose-Price. The musical response can be startlingly diverse in its conception, ranging from the austere opening Kyrie, painting a bleak picture of the void before creation, to the Copland and Chavez-tinged celebrations of the Gloria, to the unexpectedly restrained but touchingly beautiful setting of the Sanctus and Benedictus. This 1987 recording, previously available on RPO records, captures the atmosphere of the work admirably, not least in the awesome unleashing of natural power in Flood.

In Hellís Angels, written in 1998, Patterson revisits his earlier language once again, turning not to the orchestra for choral accompaniment but to a striking ensemble of percussion and amplified string quartet from which he draws a fascinating range of effects and colours/ The polystyrene cups used on the strings at the outset of the movement entitled Destruction will either be loved or hated! The inspiration is again wide-ranging, combining passages of chaos, both organised and otherwise, with shouting crowds and vocal effects that at times bring to mind Berio as much as Penderecki or Lutosławski. The American influence is present again in Gonna Take a Run, a play on Steve Reich this time, both in title and music. As in Mass of the Sea the texts are drawn from both biblical sources, in this case the Old Testament, and the contemporary (Ben Dunwell). Excerpts from Miltonís ĎParadise Lostí are another link, if inadvertent, to Penderecki. From all of this emerges the final Vision, a profound and serious conclusion to the work, which ends questioningly as a solo soprano intones words from Psalm 139.

In his booklet notes Paul Pellay asserts, "Patterson has been pre-eminent as one of this countryís most distinctive and respected composers". Well, his use of Ďpre-eminentí may just be stretching the point a little but there is little doubt that Patterson composes with a natural technical facility and flair that can produce compelling results. Stylistically, there are some doubts as to whether he has ever been truly successful in finding a wholly individual voice but that should not detract from the appeal of these works. Mass of the Sea in particular offers much to enjoy.

Christopher Thomas


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