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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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George DYSON (1883-1964)
St Paul's Voyage to Melita for tenor, chorus and orchestra (1933) [30.03]
Agincourt for chorus and orchestra (1956) [25.03]
Nocturne from Quo Vadis for tenor, solo viola, strings, harp and organ (1939) [10.29]
Neil Mackie (ten)
Osian Ellis (harp)
Jane Watts (organ)
RCM Chamber Choir
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Vernon Handley (Agincourt; Melita)
rec. 1985-87, London (Nocturne); 25-26 May 2002, Poole Arts Centre (Agincourt; Melita)
SOMM SOMMCD234 [65.58]

Dyson, shattered by his service in the trenches, returned to the Royal College of Music a man shaken, transformed. Confidence returned slowly. His Three Rhapsodies for string quartet (on Hyperion) were published by the Carnegie UK Trust along with such ikons of the British musical renaissance as Finzi's Introit, Bantock's Hebridean, and Armstrong Gibbs' Bluebird. Soon he established himself as a writer of grand choral pieces. In 1928 there was In Honour of the City (before the splendid Walton piece). In 1930 came The Canterbury Pilgrims (Chandos). The Three Choirs and other choral committees began to commission from him and there came forth St Paul's Voyage to Melita (performed at the Three Choirs 1933, 1934, 1937 and 1952), The Blacksmiths (Leeds, 1934 - recorded with other attractive Dysoniana on Somm Céleste SOMMCD014), Nebuchadnezzar (Worcester, 1935) and then his magnum opus, Quo Vadis (1949, rec. Chandos CHAN 10061(2). He had the good fortune (and misfortune) to live on into the 1960s when his music seemed fusty by comparison with the experiments welcomed by the young bloods at the BBC and elsewhere.

St Paul's Voyage sets sections of Chapter 27 of Acts: the journey from Rome to shipwreck on Malta. Dyson's writing is curvaceous, mellifluous, without jagged edges and with a certain summer heaviness about it. Parallels include the more contented choral writing in Walton's Belshazzar's Feast and Howard Hanson's insufficiently celebrated Lament for Beowulf. The choir is well coached. Their words can for the most part be heard rather than lost in a generalised mist of sibilants. Dyson is superb at the ostinato tread, with the music for the words Nevertheless the Centurion (5.20), similar to the equally gritty tread in Quo Vadis for Part III O whither shall my troubled muse incline. Extremely effective stuff. If Dvořák's New World is recalled in the opening you can also catch a glimpse of the orchestral Scriabin and Miaskovsky at 12.00 and 23.12. The work represents an entertainingly varied narrative though the world of the spirit is not so well caught as Vaughan Williams would have achieved. There are some restless sections such as the determined little interlude at 16.43 which sounds like Sainton's The Island. The tolling figure that dominates the last five minutes might perhaps have been recalled by William Alwyn in the 1970s when writing his Fifth Symphony Hydriotaphia.

While spirituality is not the forte of St Paul's Voyage this is certainly to the fore in the Nocturne from Quo Vadis. It is a contentedly balmy and lyrical interlude with the viola as the quiet comforter and the organ chiming a 'tail' to the main melody In the hour of my distress. Sadly the violist is not identified. Can anyone tell me who it is? It is worth noting that the very same Neil Mackie who made this recording in the 1980s is also the tenor in the St Paul work the sessions for which took place in 2002.

Agincourt, a very late work, has at the start and at 3.10, a Waltonian ebullience like the cracking Te Deum by the Oldham composer. Other influences include Vaughan Williams from Dona Nobis Pacem. Some of the more roundedly mellow moments suggest that Dyson knew his Finzi as well (7.07 suggesting Intimations of Immortality).

This disc reissues the Quo Vadis extract from a couple of Dyson LPs produced by Unicorn during the 1960s. However the commanding presence of this SOMM release on the shelves is established by the world premiere recordings of St Paul's Voyage and of Agincourt, the latter written for the 1956 Petersfield Music Festival. The words are from Shakespeare's Henry V and the subject will be musically familiar from the Walton film score (still best heard on EMI Classics CDM 5 65007 2) and from the Patrick Doyle soundtrack from the Ken Branagh film.

The notes are by Lewis Foreman who does his usual job which is to say - full, rejecting routine information, making new and intriguing connections and challenging assumptions.

This recording was made with the financial assistance of the Dyson Trust whose dogged determination has seen most of Dyson's works (including the Symphony and Violin Concerto on Chandos) added to the catalogue. Remaining are the cello and orchestra triptych (intriguingly recorded in cello and piano version by Continuum and one orchestral movement of which was included in the Julian Lloyd Webber English collection on Philips) and the most ambitious other hopes lie in the direction of Nebuchadnezzar.

Vintage splendour from Dyson the magnificent.

Rob Barnett



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