Dyson, George: A Choral Symphony (1910). Rental
Full score, vocal scores and instrumental material
Duration: 42 minutes
For soprano, alto, tenor and bass soloists and SATB choir, with two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A/B flat, two bassoons, four horns in E/F, two trumpets in E/F, three trombones, tuba, timpani, harp and strings
Rediscovered in the Bodleian Library where it had lain forgotten for almost a century, and premiered in 2014, A Choral Symphony is a major four-movement setting of Psalm 107, the words taken from the Book of Common Prayer. In his authoritative biography of the composer, Paul Spicer notes that this text was probably chosen for its variety of dramatic images, especially in the fourth movement, ‘They that go down to the sea in ships’, stimulating the composer’s skill in writing descriptive sea music, a gift also abundantly displayed in St Paul’s Voyage to Melita. Though an early work, written in 1910 and submitted in 1917 for an Oxford D.Mus, A Choral Symphony is already highly characteristic in its flair, pace and drama, with an assured handling of the chorus in extended passages for double choir, and colourful orchestration that presages later and more familiar scores such as the cantata The Canterbury Pilgrims and the Violin Concerto. A Choral Symphony is recorded by The Bach Choir and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hill on Naxos 8573770.
Abandoned art can often re-emerge years later to deliver stunning surprises. So it has proved with British composer, Sir George Dyson. After more than a century of a lamentable neglect, well-deserved recognition has at last been given to his Choral Symphony. This powerful work is slickly divided into selected verses from Psalm 107 into four movements for double choir, four soloists and symphony orchestra.
Here, since its academic conception in 1910, this highly tuneful and influential work is given a well-deserved premiere recording. This finely engineered enterprise captures an all-encapsulating sound that clearly demonstrates Dyson’s creative flair and musical skills. Contemporary composers, Charles Stanford and Hubert Parry, are acclaimed to have been Dyson’s main influences. For me this music also has an uncanny affinity with Edward Elgar’s choral masterpiece, The Music Makers, which was premiered two years later, in 1912.
Dyson was born in Halifax to a working class family and the Choral Symphony was written while he was at Oxford University, where he earned a Diploma in Music.
This crystalline recording shows Dyson’s Choral Symphony as far more than simply an academic achievement. It carries a vivid imagery of wide and heartfelt appeal, with a superbly cohesive balance between choir, soloists and the meticulous Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra players.
This is beautifully evident in the haunting opening strings of a Largo movement which will emotionally charge even the stoutest soul. The wonderfully pitched soprano voice of Elizabeth Watts adds a shimmering shiver to an other-worldly atmosphere.
David Hill marshals the large forces with a spiritual inspiration and panache. Surely all serious music enthusiasts will now accept this towering work as a highly influential benchmark for British music overall.
A total programme of more than 75 minutes of fascinating Dyson music is made up by another of the impressive lists of works by Sir George, St. Paul’s Voyage to Melita (1933).
CHRIS BYE, British Music Society, e-News