The Open Window – Complete Piano Works
Simon Callaghan, Cliodna Shanahan (piano)
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD0622-2 101:58 mins (2 discs)
The complete piano music: but not even one sonata, let alone Beethoven’s 32. Modest dimensions, ambitions too, always governed George Dyson’s keyboard output, ranging from an untitled morsel of 1890 (he was just seven) to the Twelve Easy Piecesof 1952, one of several pedagogical sets intended for young fingers. All this may suggest music of no great significance, music that does indeed occasionally surface during the two discs. Yet even when the fingering is simple and the length very brief, Dyson usually packs in plenty of substance, with tricky rhythms, surprising harmonies that belie his conservative image and considerable authentic charm.
Some of the time, as in the Open Window set of 1920, Dyson succeeds in traditional ways, painting vivid musical pictures in pieces entitled ‘Gentle Rain’, ‘Swallows’, or ‘Passers-by’. The coin’s other side emerges in the unorthodox triumph of the decidedly odd Bach’s Birthday, four little fugues often so tonally unhinged that we could be listening to a deliberate parody of the Second Viennese School. Other pieces – the pungent Epigrams written while soldiering in the Great War, the gracefully atmospheric Four Twilight Preludes, meaty character pieces shaped and propelled with concise compositional skill – successfully occupy the middle ground.
Simon Callaghan, a devoted specialist in forgotten British repertoire, tackles this varied fare with aplomb. Cliodna Shanahan joins him for Dyson’s not entirely satisfactory two-piano arrangement of the 1951 Concerto Leggiero, almost Les Six-ish in its whirling chatter. But the real pleasures of this welcome release lie elsewhere.