Music: Anthony Payne's COMPOSER'S PORTRAIT

Christ Church, Spitalfields
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The Independent Culture
Though composers boast about their heroes, they rarely end up sounding like them. In the manner of Stravinsky and Britten before him, Anthony Payne has found that the desire to regress is the first step on the road to something new. Scholar and critic (for this paper included) as well as late-starting composer, he's laid his loyalties squarely at the door of the English romantics and German moderns. Though far apart as styles, each, for him, has the strength of real affection. In the ample space between, he has created a resilient body of work that is born of a desire to reflect the glories of both Delius and Schoenberg, yet ends up sounding like neither.

This was the impression of his "Composer's Portrait" concert last Thursday at Christ Church, Spitalfields, a privileged occasion he claims as fiefdom with joint artist directors Judith Weir and Michael Berkeley, who will have their chance in later years. Central to the evening was Payne's own Symphonies of Wind and Rain, suggesting Turner's elemental power in its title and using a similar drive of pictorial drama to press forward its ideas. Set in eight closely knit sections that used the twisting, shimmering rain music of the opening as a vivid refrain, the colourful themes pulled against and within the flow of a one-movement form in a way more typical of Sibelius than Schoenberg. Nordic in attitude, yet with a very English spirit of common-sense compromise, this piece summed up Payne's own rugged personality and unbiased attitude to the question of national music.

The remainder of the programme explored further aspects of the same subject. Burning with gem-like intensity, Webern's Three Traditional Rhymes and Six Trakl Songs gave glimpses of the wider world of European experience that Payne holds dear. Jane Manning's performances with her own ensemble, Jane's Minstrels, were as near perfect as could be wished for, with phrasing and balance intuitively grasped.

The eight epigrams of Elisabeth Lutyens's The Valley of Hatsu-se, written in 1966, proposed a paradox. When Payne first encountered these songs, they were totems of ardent modernism. Yet their classic serialism, British style, may now be as much a subject of nostalgia as the lost utopias of Elgar or Vaughan Williams. Dallapiccola's Piccola musica notturna restored the balance, with its resonant mood of Italian summer-night magic transcending the limits of idiom and technique.

As for the arrangements of Warlock songs and Elgar salon pieces, their raison d'etre was as precious romantic repertoire for modern chamber ensembles - and a chance for Payne to indulge his passion in a rewarding and practical way. As golden as a Delian sunset, the arching horn melody against hushed background chords in Late Summer must have been thrilling to compose, like restoring an old master. The two Chansons, de Matin and de Nuit, were likewise scored in exquisite taste and with fidelity to Elgar's subtle voicings. Here and throughout the evening, ending with the riot of Grainger's Spoon River, the quiet musicianship of the conductor, Roger Montgomery, was an invaluable asset.

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