Dyson: St Paul’s Voyage to Melita; Nocturne (from Quo vadis?); Agincourt

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Dyson
LABELS: Somm
WORKS: St Paul’s Voyage to Melita; Nocturne (from Quo vadis?); Agincourt
PERFORMER: Neil Mackie (tenor), Jane Watts (organ), Osian Ellis (harp); Bournemouth SO & Chorus/Vernon Handley; RCM Chamber Choir, RPO/David Willcocks
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 234
It was only in the July issue that I welcomed a complete recording of George Dyson’s Quo vadis? to the catalogue; the ‘Nocturne’ – remastered here from a 1988 Unicorn disc – is one of its most striking sections. The other pieces, on disc for the first time, display Dyson’s gifts as a composer of effective festival choral works in the line of Parry, RVW and Howells. St Paul’s Voyage to Melita (1933) sets the biblical narrative of storm and shipwreck with pleasing onomatopeia and an easy mastery of choral and orchestral forces. Agincourt (1956) is a deftly chosen miscellany of passages from Shakespeare’s Henry V culminating in a setting of the ‘Agincourt Song’, already made famous through Walton’s music for Olivier’s film version of the Shakespeare play. Pleasant though it is – sometimes intensely pleasant – one does wonder if Dyson’s high-minded, post-Parryesque utterance is really up to Shakespeare’s many musics, when such lines as ‘the scene/is now transported to Southampton’ and ‘upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing’ are equally set in majestically flowing lines of heroic euphony. And surely it was a miscalculation to give the hero-king’s St Crispian’s Day speech to the chorus rather than a tenor soloist.

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Vernon Handley directs enthusiastic, passionately sung performances in slightly tubby sound: yet the closing pages of St Paul’s Voyage, with bass drum and organ pedals, have some of the most thunderous sounds my speakers have ever had to cope with, excellently caught in the recording. Calum MacDonald