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Sir George DYSON (1883-1964)
Church and Organ Music
Evening Service in D: Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (1907) [6”36”] Live for Ever, Glorious Lord (1952) [5’01”] Prelude (organ solo) (1956) [5’56”] Postlude (organ solo) (1956) [2’54”] Vespers (1939) [5’13”] Psalm-Tune Prelude: I Was Glad (organ solo) (1961) [3’29”] Te Deum (1955) [6’51”] Benedictus (1955) [5’10”]
Hail, Universal Lord (1958) [5’33”]
A Voluntary of Praise (organ solo) {3’27”]
Benedicite (1956) [4’26”] Valour: from Songs of Courage (1935) [2’43”]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983): Dyson’s Delight (organ solo) (1961) [4’18”] Choir of St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge/Owen Rees Ian Coleman (organ) Rec. St. Catherine’s Chapel, June/October 1986. DDD
REGIS RRC 1161 [62’31”]

The music of Sir George Dyson has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years; in the recording studios at least, if not in the concert hall. Credit for that must go, most of all, to Chandos and Richard Hickox for their estimable series of recordings of Dyson’s larger-scale works. I’ve been delighted to be able to hear for the first time fine works such as the Violin Concerto and Quo Vadis and not just because, like Dyson, I was born in Halifax in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire. It’s much more than native Yorkshire pride. Dyson’s music is of great interest in its own right.

The present CD was something of a pioneering release. It was first issued quite some time ago, long before the Chandos-led rediscovery of Dyson and was engineered by Bob Auger, in itself something of a guarantee of excellence. Auger produced a very satisfying sound, using the acoustic of the college chapel intelligently and atmospherically and integrating the organ well with the choir.

The recital benefits not just from good engineering but from fine choral singing. There isn’t a listing of the choir but it sounds to me to be about two dozen strong. The top line is taken by sopranos, not trebles, and at least some of the altos are male. The sopranos and tenors produce a bright sound and the basses, while not heavy, give a solid enough foundation to the ensemble. The singers have clearly been well prepared by Owen Rees for their diction is excellent throughout, balance is always good. The choral tone is forward and clear and rhythms are consistently alert and precise. On top of all this Ian Coleman’s organ accompaniments are thoroughly musical and supportive.

Coleman comes into his own in the five solos allotted to him. Four of these are by Dyson himself and it was a nice idea to include the slender tribute by Herbert Howells, an effective organ transcription (by whom?) of one of his clavichord pieces from the collection entitled Howells Clavichord. These organ pieces are nicely contrasted. In particular it’s good to hear the paired Prelude and Postlude together. The former is a ruminative mood-setting piece while the latter would send any congregation out of the church with a spring in their collective step.

As will be noted from the heading, most of the choral works come from the period towards the end of Dyson’s life and they do share for the most part something of a sense of the serenity of old age. Lines are long, harmonies full and satisfying. But I mustn’t give the impression that the music is complacent. The Te Deum, for example, is sturdy and confident, as is the organ piece, A Voluntary of Praise, which dates from the late 1950s. However, most of the music is lyrical in style and I especially enjoyed the flowing, delightful setting of the Benedicite. From the other end of Dyson’s career comes the ‘Mag’ and ‘Nunc’ of 1907. The Magnificat is a fine, four-square, robust setting while its companion is easeful and gentle. It’s rather remarkable that such quintessentially Anglican music should have been written in Dresden while the composer was studying in Germany.

All the choral music sounds as if singers will derive great pleasure from the singing of it. It is understandingly written for the human voice and while it is far from bland or facile it does not place extreme demands on the choir. In short it was designed by a skilled and practical musician to be sung by good church choirs rather than to gather dust on the shelves because it made insensitive demands on singers. (As an aside I had a nostalgic moment listening to the final item, Valour. I remember singing this very piece at school and I haven’t heard it since. Dyson gives Bunyan’s words what the annotator rightly calls a “memorably masculine treatment”)

I enjoyed this disc very much and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the English choral tradition. The performances are first class and are well recorded. The notes are succinct but useful and full English texts are provided. And all at a bargain price. Perhaps George Dyson wasn’t a composer of the first rank but he was not an inconsiderable figure and his well-crafted, sincere and enjoyable music is well worth hearing.

John Quinn

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