Payne: The Stones and Lonely Places Sing; Empty Landscape – Heart’s Ease; Scenes from the Woodlanders etc

COMPOSERS: Payne
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Payne: The Stones and Lonely Places Sing
WORKS: The Stones and Lonely Places Sing; Empty Landscape – Heart’s Ease; Scenes from the Woodlanders etc
PERFORMER: Jane Manning (soprano); Jane’s Minstrels/Roger Montgomery
CATALOGUE NO: D130
Anthony Payne’s music straddles two starkly contrasted worlds. Nothing establishes this more clearly than the opening work on this CD, the sextet Empty Landscape – Heart’s Ease. At first the slightly serrated sounds, nervily complex cross rhythms and abrasive harmonies suggest a composer with at least one foot in the post-War, post-Schoenbergian camp. But before long the manner melts and becomes more expressive, and within a few more minutes we could almost be listening to a longlost section from Peter Warlock’s melancholic pastoral The Curlew. And the more recent the work, the more it seems to side with the latter, very English sensibility.

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Admittedly, some of the instrumental and vocal writing of the (significantly, prose-based) scenes from The Woodlanders may recall Janá?ek more than any specific English model. But it is that English Romantic way of thinking about melodic line, expressive harmony and instrumental colour – and above all creating haunting musical atmospheres – which shines through, even in the initially thorny Of Knots and Skeins. What else would we expect of the composer who so brilliantly fleshed out Elgar’s Third Symphony?

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The performances are excellent: Jane Manning and her ensemble plainly had no difficulty here in connecting with the pulse and expressive breadth of the music, and the recording quality serves the music perfectly throughout. Stephen Johnson