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The Bach Choir has recorded two works by the British composer Sir George Dyson, the Choral Symphony and St Paul’s Voyage to Melita. Bizarrely the composer is also remembered for producing a training manual for the use of hand grenades. Both the British and American armed forces used it as the standard work for many years.
David Hill, Music Director of The Bach Choir, who has a reputation for his work with British music, says: “I am passionate about British music and the Choral Symphony was a real find – such a mature work, despite the fact that Dyson wrote it when a student – demonstrating both his mastery of orchestration and his love of the sea.”
The Bach Choir, one of the world’s leading choruses, has sung in prestigious venues around the UK, collaborated with the Rolling Stones, and worked on blockbuster films including Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.
The conductor, Paul Spicer, one of the leading exponents of British music today, says: “I was very excited to find this work, and knew that it was worth hearing. Once the first performance confirmed how good a work it is, we then wanted to secure the best possible recording for it and knowing David Hill’s empathy with British choral music he was the obvious choice to record it with The Bach Choir. The recording is wonderful and it is exciting that it went shooting up the classical charts straight away. This is lyrical, dramatic, colourful music which deserves to be in the regular canon of choral/orchestral works from British composers.”
Sir George Dyson came from a working class background in Halifax, West Yorkshire, the son of a blacksmith. From this modest background he went on to carve a unique niche for himself in British life: he worked on mechanics for the army and was an outstanding musician.
The grenade manual produced by him in 1915 was a remarkable facet of Dyson’s life. He was extremely practical, knew the workings of engines and mechanical devices intimately. The grenade manual was the first in its field and others which followed acknowledged their debt to Dyson’s original. He was someone who could turn his hand to anything required of him and had an extraordinary mental capacity to address issues with which he was faced.
The Choral Symphony is a remarkable achievement for a young man. He had just returned from his Mendelssohn Scholarship period in Italy and Germany and his head was full of these stimuli. One of his abilities was being able to write long sections of music which unfolded organically and this, together with a brilliant ear for orchestration and a fine sense of drama, made for a winning combination.
The symphony shows Dyson just starting properly to flex his compositional muscles and it is fascinating to see how very different St. Paul’s Voyage to Melita is in its sound world from the early symphony.
One of the interesting things about Dyson’s music is that although well aware of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams, he was not significantly influenced by it. So he remains something of a voice apart in the mainstream of British composers of the early 20th century and is all the stronger for that.
His fascination with the sea and water generally was a constant inspiration and was one of the constant themes of his creative life. He set Edmund Spenser’s words ‘Sweet Thames’ to music. But it is his seascapes which are truly wonderful in his music. We have them in both the works on this recording and in many others too.
In 2011 The Bach Choir collaborated with John Rutter and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on The Colours of Christmas, which reached No 3 in the Official Classical Charts. In 2013, it also worked on projects for BBC Radio 3, BBC One, Sky Arts and Sky Sports News.
Now the choir, whose history includes such notable names as Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Ralph Vaughan Williams, can also add the title of the brainiest cultural institution in Britain to its honours board. The 140-year-old institution was crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz, which pitted some of the UK’s biggest cultural bodies against each other.
The CD is available to purchase here.