Anthony Payne’s 70th-Birthday Concert

6 Bagatelles for wind quintet
Elgar arr. Payne
Chanson de matin & Salut d’amour [for wind quintet, string quartet and harp]
Piano Trio
Scenes from The Woodlanders [for voice, 2 clarinets, violin and cello]
The Stones and Lonely Places Sing [for flute, clarinet, horn, string trio and piano]
Rhapsody Trio [for 2 violins and viola]
Warlock arr. Payne
Three Aspects of Love and Contentment [for voice, wind quartet and string quartet]

Jane Manning (soprano)

Jane’s Minstrels:
Robert Manasse (flute)
Celia Craug (oboe)
Dov Goldberg (clarinets)
Susan Gill (clarinets)
John McDougall (bassoon)
Timothy Jackson (horn)
Susanne Stanzeleit (violin)
Marina Gillam (violin)
Dorothea Vogel (viola)
Adrian Bradbury (cello)
Dominic Saunders (piano & harp synthesizer)

Roger Montgomery

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 8 February, 2006
Venue: Purcell Room, London

This programme, for Anthony Payne’s 70th-birthday, was altered to preserve Jane Manning’s voice by omitting Webern’s Op.14 Songs (but adding a further Payne arrangement of Elgar); the concert began with Ligeti and moved through various pieces of Payne to end with Frank Bridge and another Payne arrangement, this time of Peter Warlock, a delightful encore.

Ligeti’s 6 Bagatelles (1953) are early, largely tonal works. With precise, differentiated hearing, Ligeti explores the instruments’ capabilities without straining their capacities – moving adeptly from light to dark, nimble to forceful, reticent to dominant throughout the entire compass of each instrument. Ligeti labels these pieces juvenilia, but they are benchmark compositions. They’re fun, too – the bassoon ends the first and last of them with a burp.

Anthony Payne shot to fame by expanding the sketches for Elgar’s Third Symphony; his arrangements of two of Elgar’s well-known salon pieces do not seem quite so successful. Taken alone a string quartet could recall the oppressive melancholy of a lush Edwardian drawing room; a wind quintet for its part could give a sharper edge – and even suggest a distant bandstand. The combination of both sounds merely mushy.

The single-movement Piano Trio (1998) came through a commission from the Lake Piano Trio – for Payne, a particularly welcome means of rediscovering himself after ‘being’ Elgar for 18 months. The result held my interest much of the time but did not quite engage. Payne is a composer who does not fight shy of ‘modernity’: the work is predominantly romantic and tonal, yet its spare harmonies and poised, restrained melodic line recall Webern, Varèse, Ravel and Hindemith. ‘Englishness’ is present enough though – scurrying limply, lumbering shapelessly.

“Scenes from the Woodlanders” is not entirely successful either. Hardy’s vivid passages blaze perfectly well on their own. They do not gain from being set to music – nor did they from Jane Manning’s breathing problems. (She was not well.) The musical interest lies elsewhere. Payne’s able instrumental accompaniment brings Hardy’s Dorset to life – robust and alarming, light and breezy, dark and shimmering, blowing an awesome and foreboding gale.

The Stones and Lonely Places Sing works better. The quiet, austere beginning and ending shimmers like some abstract metal construct from Henry Moore. Its still spirit seems to derive from the notes themselves.

Frank Bridge’s Rhapsody Trio was an inspired conclusion, played with intense and affectionate restraint. This is music of the recent past – however Bridge, like his student Britten, was ahead of his time. Having absorbed the backward-looking mannerisms of the English idiom and the progressive advances of Paris and Vienna, Bridge had won through to a voice of his own: restrained and cultured, middle-class English. I feel that, though writing earlier, he had reached a musical self-assuredness that Anthony Payne is – and all credit to him – still seeking.

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