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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Nebuchadnezzar; Three Songs of Praise; Woodland Suite; O Praise God in His Holiness; Confortare
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore (tenor), Neal Davies (bass-baritone); BBC Symphony Chorus; BBC Symphony Orchestra/Richard Hickox


Any Biblical oratorio written in Britain in the mid-1930s invited comparison with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, premiered in 1931. George Dyson’s Nebuchadnezzar, written for the 1935 Three Choirs Festival, certainly has echoes of that masterpiece, in its sense of drama as much as its subject-matter.

But if the harmonic and rhythmic writing isn’t as audacious, Dyson makes up for it in with a more obvious sense of spirituality, both in the affecting modal music that accompanies the ordeal in the burning fiery furnace and in the hymn of praise that concludes the work.

Following on from his well-received recordings of Dyson’s Canterbury Pilgrims (reviewed June 1997) and Quo vadis? (July 2003), Richard Hickox again reminds us of his unrivalled mastery in the British choral-orchestral repertoire, particularly here in terms of balance and pace.

The two soloists, Mark Padmore as a herald and Neal Davis as Nebuchadnezzar, bring character to the performance, but it’s the excellent BBC Symphony Chorus that drives the narrative with its incisive singing.


The couplings, performed with equal aplomb, begin with a charming Woodland Suite written for school orchestra before moving back into the choral sphere with two suitably celebratory coronation anthems and the more varied Three Songs of Praise.  Matthew Rye