BBC Symphony Orchestra 
Martyn Brabbins, Andrew Davis conductors

NMC  D281

Not only is this disc a tribute to Anthony Payne (1936-2021) who died shortly after his wonderful wife Jane Manning, but it can also be considered a memorial to the late Sir Andrew Davis, whose 2002 BBC Proms performance of Payne’s Visions and Journeys, recorded live in the Albert Hall, is brilliantly captured on this disc. This is a work you can think of as a seascape, in this case journeys to the Scilly Islands, which, as the composer admits, could often be turbulent. Payne captures the natural world with a real sense of wild excitement, ending with a series of ‘swells’ and little rhythmic figurations offering us, as the composer in his notes admits, ‘something of a postcard of the time taken to write it’.

It will be known to all that Payne has described himself as an Elgarian, and that his elaboration of the 3rd symphony has slipped into musical history. Half-Heard in the Stillness emerged from a commission in 1987 to reflect and ’somehow incorporate’ Elgar’s Memorial Chimes, ‘written for the Loughborough carillon’, into an orchestral work. Payne thus composed a twelve-minute ‘tone-poem’ as he calls it, which fleetingly uses one or two ‘haunting phrases’ which are half-heard within the texture. The resultant work is, though, rather dark and imposing.

The main work however is The Seeds Long Hidden, a set of variations dating from 1992-94. This covers a large canvas of almost half-an-hour. It is as near to an autobiographical work as you can imagine, and Payne tells us of the moment he fell in love with music aged twelve. Despite saying ‘I am suspicious of this age’s obsession with quotations’, he goes on to allude to, or quote, small extracts which have informed his musical development, including some from the Enigma Variations, Butterworth, Vaughan Williams and Frank Bridge. He also quotes his own Phoenix Mass Opus 1, and his Day in the Life of a Mayfly. This is a powerful work, even overpowering at times, with a great many notes and almost a feeling of violence and wildness. The excellent booklet notes by the composer go through the ten variations, although it is not always easy to hear when sections begin and end. The still centre of the work, based around the note B is a wonderfully magical moment of reflection.

Payne’s own music deserves to be heard, not just his Elgar elaboration, and this CD is a good place to start.

Review by Gary Higginson