Anthony Payne’s major orchestral works give the shape and direction to the whole of his career as a composer over the past 50 years. There have been four so far, and the Proms commission to mark his 80th birthday next week was intended to make it five, but what began as an idea for a symphonic poem transformed itself into a work for chorus and orchestra, the first that Payne has written.
In many ways, though, Of Land, Sea and Sky, which Andrew Davis introduced with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, is still very much a symphonic poem, though it is unmistakably a substantial choral piece, too. The texts that Payne sets – his own short poems – are never prescriptive but add an extra layer of commentary to what is already vividly depicted in the orchestra – a chain of six symphonic images, framed by a prelude and postlude, all drawing on Payne’s memories of natural illusions, whether taken from literature, painting or first-hand experience.
As the title signals, this is a seamless sequence of land-, sea- and skyscapes, a beautifully crafted and paced “symphony of illusions”, as the final poem describes it. And the music is clearly heir to a tradition that harks back at least to Bax and Bridge – just as distinctively English in its way as Vaughan Williams’s Towards the Unknown Region, the choral setting of Walt Whitman with which Davis ended his concert.
- On BBC iPlayer until 25 August. The Proms continue until 10 September.