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Anthony PAYNE (b.1936)
Phoenix Mass
(1965) [19:59]
BBC Singers and Philip Jones Brass Ensemble/John Poole
Susan Bradshaw (piano)
The World’s Winter
Jane Manning (soprano)
The Nash Ensemble/Lionel Friend
Horn Trio
(2006) [16:24]
Jane’s Minstrels
rec. 1977 except Horn Trio, BBC studio sessions 2010.
NMC D159 [62:00]

The first three pieces here date from LP times. Indeed they were issued on a rare BBC LP circa 1977. It's a surprise in a way that the masters were not picked up by Richard Itter when he was scooping up the rights to all those British Council-sponsored Argo recordings now reissued on Lyrita CDs. In any event NMC have done their usual elite job on this CD which has been funded by a number of Payne's US devotees. Rather than leaving it to LP duration NMC have also sourced a much more recent BBC tape of the Horn Trio.

Payne's roster on NMC is already substantial if not lengthy. There are two discs of chamber music NMC D056 and NMC D130. Add to this his tone poem Time's Arrow on NMC D037 and Payne's best-selling 1997 completion/realisation of the Elgar Third Symphony (NMC D053) (article). He remains a firm and discerningly discriminating proselytiser for British music. His orchestrations include a suite of Warlock's songs and of RVW's Four Last Songs.

With all these credentials what will you hear? Well, you must bear in mind that three of these works are from the 1970s. The Phoenix Mass is a vibrant piece but especially in the vocal parts is no stranger to dissonance and to the wilder extremes. There is something primeval and savagely irrepressible about its four movements. It's an exciting work verging on the terrifying. The finale at times suggests worship through hunting down the object of veneration. Fanfares mix with wails and shouts in one exultant extravaganza.

Paean is heard from Susan Bradshaw, a life-long supporter of contemporary British composers during the ivory-tower rule of the unruly dissonant. It's in three movements and eleven minutes of discontinuity, assaults and angular surprise. The dissonance is a refractive condiment to ideas which one can tell are melodic but do not expect to be easily courted.

The World's Winter is sung by Payne's wife Jane Manning who again championed the avant-garde from the 1960s onwards. Her voice is extraordinarily vibrant. Intriguing that Tennyson's lushly Victorian poetry is married with music of dissonance and discontinuity. The two early poems set off each other by juxtaposing the views that nothing will die and that all things must die. Perhaps the reconciliation lies in the words that close the first poem 'All things will change'. The Nash Ensemble provide a fulsome orchestral fabric in constant motion and inflected by birdsong and driven urgency.

The above recordings had to be transferred from LPs as the tape masters have gone AWOL and there is some audio strain in the Phoenix Mass; not at all so in the other two works.

The Horn Trio was recorded in February 2010 in the Purcell Room. It has been adeptly balanced given the challenge posed by the marrying together these three instruments. This is a more recent work dating from 2006. The urgency of invention that shakes and shudders through the Phoenix Mass is there again but the dissonant element, though not entirely absent, is less jaggedly asserted than in the 1970s. The composer comments that, after the event, he agreed he had been influenced in the Trio by Schoenberg's First Chamber Symphony and by Sibelius's Seventh Symphony.

The notes are by Bayan Northcott.

A valuable entry in Payne's discography.

Rob Barnett



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