Sir George DYSON (1883-1964)
Three Songs of Courage (1935) [8:41]
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Welsh Folk Songs (1930-1931) [9:36]
Sir George DYSON
Lauds (1935) [4:12]
Nocturne (1960) [3:43]
To Music (1919) [2:41]
The Moon (1942) [3;11]
I loved a Lass (1919) [3:23]
Love is Enough (1897) [3:09]
Five Part-songs (1902-1903) [13:02]
Godwine Choir/Alex Davan Wetton & Edward Hughes
Matthew Jorysz (organ)
rec. 2017, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London
EM RECORDS EMRCDR049 [51:48]
At first sight, the pairing of Sir George Dyson and Gustav Holst may seem an odd one. But though their musical styles were very different a couple of things bind them together, as Daniel Jaffé points out in one of the essays in the booklet that accompanies this CD. For one thing, both studied at the Royal College of Music where their teachers included Parry and Stanford. In addition, both spent a good deal of their lives making a living as teachers in secondary or tertiary education. This nice programme from the Godwine Choir presents a number of examples of choral songs by each composer.
The Three Songs of Courage come from Dyson’s days as a schoolmaster, all three of them originating as unison songs. ‘Valour’ (1935) and ‘Reveille’ (1926) were both composed while he was a master at Winchester. ‘The Seekers’ (1923) dates from his time teaching at Wellington College. In 1935 Dyson gathered them together in SATB arrangements as the Three Songs of Courage. Only ‘Valour’ has previously been recorded in its SATB setting; the mixed-choir versions of the other two are new to disc. ‘Valour’ is a sturdy and forthright setting of lines from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. ‘The Seekers’ is founded on a noble, aspiring melody, introduced by the male voices (you can imagine a large group of schoolboys singing it lustily). ‘Reveille’, a setting of Housman, has another good tune and this time it’s the sopranos who get to introduce it.
‘Lauds’, one of Dyson’s Three Songs of Praise was written in the same year as ‘Valour’ but the two pieces couldn’t be more different. Daniel Jaffé aptly describes this setting of sixteenth-century English words as “soothing”. The earliest Dyson pieces here are To Music and I loved a Lass. The latter is, in essence, a fairly “conventional” jolly setting akin to many English folksong settings of the period – though it’s not actually a folksong. But Daniel Jaffé rightly draws attention to the less conventional way in which Dyson sets the last line of each stanza; that makes the setting rather more interesting. This is its first recording. To Music, a setting of Herrick’s famous lines, is a gentle, lovely and fluent piece in which the part-writing is very assured. There are two other recorded premieres. The Moon is easily the most ambitious Dyson piece in this collection in terms of the chromatic nature of its harmonies. Nocturne, also appearing on disc for the first time, is a very late piece. It’s an unaccompanied setting of words by John Keble. The poem has three stanzas. In the first two Dyson’s music uses very spare textures and harmonies: Daniel Jaffé is right to use the word “austere”. But then, as if a switch had been flicked, the mood of the poem changes in verse three and Dyson responds accordingly with much warmer harmonies and flowing vocal lines. This is a fine miniature.
Holst’s four Welsh Folk Songs are settings that use English versifications by his friend, the tenor Sir Steuart Wilson of the translations from the original language. According to Imogen Holst, the first of the four, Lisa Lan was her father’s favourite and I’m not surprised. It’s a touching, willowy tune, delicately harmonised. Green Grass is not particularly remarkable but The Nightingale and Linnet is gentle and pretty. The Lively Pair brings the set to a cheerful end.
There’s one Holst recorded premiere in this programme. Love is Enough is a very early composition in which words by William Morris are set. The music lilts nicely and there are some harmonic surprises. The Five Part-songs were brought together by Holst as his Op 12 though, apparently, never published as a set during his lifetime. Indeed, it appears that the third song, Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee was not finished by Holst. It was only just before she died in 1984 that Imogen edited the piece and composed the music for the second of its two verses. Now is the month of Maying was, of course, famously set by Thomas Morley. It wouldn’t be right to describe Holst’s setting as a pastiche of that famous madrigal; rather, it seems to me to be a homage to Morley. Dream tryst, the song which gives the album its title, is not, by Holst’s standards, particularly adventurous in terms of its harmonic language but even though the music may be relatively conventional, it’s absolutely lovely. So, too, is the last of the set, Come to me. This sets a poem by Christina Rossetti and it’s a real charmer. The music is both beautiful and sensitive and it put me in mind of Elgar’s equally exquisite There is sweet music.
The pieces in this collection may not represent either composer at their respective peaks but there are many very enjoyable and skilful settings here. The Godwine Choir sings the music very well and they’ve been nicely recorded by Myles Eastwood. The documentation, including extensive notes on the music by Daniel Jaffé – on which I’ve drawn quite a bit for background in this review – is excellent. Though the playing time is on the short side, collectors who like English part songs should definitely investigate this release.
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