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The premier recording of Dyson’s Choral Symphony

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Choral Symphony; St Paul’s Voyage to Melita
Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Caitlin Hulcup (mezzo-soprano), Joshua Ellicott (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone); The Bach Choir; Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill
Naxos 8.573770

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George Dyson wrote his Choral Symphony in 1910, for his Oxford doctorate, but it gathered dust in the university’s Bodleian Library for the best part of a century until Dyson biographer Paul Spicer discovered it. This is the Symphony’s premiere recording.

It is a very good one. Conductor David Hill shapes the opening movement, an amalgam of overture and chorus, with evident affection, neatly integrating the choppier rhythmic episodes interjected by Dyson. The second movement, describing Jewish exile in the wilderness (Psalm 107 is the source text), is dogged by predictably imitative part-writing, but a glowing solo by soprano Elizabeth Watts redeems it. Mendelssohnian influences abound, showing the young Dyson was by no means composing in a stylistic vacuum. His individuality emerges most sharply in the dark-hued Largo, a choral lament whose intensity is impressively sustained by Hill and his singers.

The other work is Dyson’s wordy, half-hour choral cantata St Paul’s Voyage to Melita, which sets Acts Chapter 27. Although from two decades later, it somehow makes a less fresh impression than the Choral Symphony, although Hill’s performance is again strongly committed. For followers of Dyson’s music, this new CD is without question a mandatory purchase.

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Terry Blain