on 3 February 2010
A wonderful disc of overlooked music by George Dyson, tuneful and colourful.
For me, Dyson's marvellous interpretation of "The Poor Parson of a Town" in The Canterbury Pilgrims, is worth the admission price on its own. Chaucer's words are set to a glorious, quintessentially English melody, redolent of Elgarian nobilmente and the ebb-and-flow of Parry's "Jerusalem". The same beautiful melody feaures as the emotional climax of the overture At the Tabard Inn.
Great stuff; play this one loud and get swept away!
on 24 May 2012
Back in 1930 there was still a demand for well crafted tuneful music and George Dyson, a distinguished teacher of music at the very highest level, certainly met that demand in this rich, warm choral and orchestral evocation of Geoffrey Chaucer's pilgrims. This setting of much of the General Prologue is for tenor, baritone and soprano soloists, full orchestra and large choir. The recording of the Canterbury Pilgrims, which is an extended work running to 90 minutes, is supplemented by the later (1943) orchestral Overture "At The Tabard Inn" and the 15 minute choral setting of a poem by William Dunbar called "In Honour of the City" (the city in question being London).
It is however the great 13 part "Canterbury Pilgrims", a musical setting of one of the early masterpieces of English poetry, which will most interest Amazon customers. There are 11 musical portraits of perhaps the most richly drawn of Chaucer's characters: the Knight, the Squire, the Nun, the Monk, the Clerke of Oxenforde, The London Livery Company men/merchants, the Franklin, the Shipman, the Doctor of Physicke, the Wife of Bath and finally the Poor Parson of a Towne. Each individual portrait has its own merits but it is fair to say that the music for the Clerke of Oxenforde and the Poor Parson is the most beautifully melodically and both pieces have become firm favourites of mine. Other reviewers have rightly written of the beauty of the music of the Poor Parson but I would like to add that the music written for the clerke is almost as noble. It starts with a simple rather dry fugue but develops (like the logical rational thinking of Chaucer's proto-academic) into richer and richer harmonies which reflect the intellectual and moral integrity of the Clerke in his scholarly work. I would add that the music for the Nun (the dainty fashionable and rather sentimental Mistress Eglantine) has a lovely melodic line which is a perfect fit for how I see this rather too romantically inclined bride of Christ. Amor Vincit Omnia is her motto.
There are musical strands that run through the whole piece especially two melodic motives which I gather from Christopher Palmer's excellent monograph on "George Dyson: man and music" should be called the "pilgrim's emblem" and the "shrine". There is an introductory piece with a setting of the famous "When Aprill with his shoures soote..." lines and a Finale called "L'envoi" in which the Knight leads the company out from the Tabard courtyard and onto the road to Canterbury and into the heart and soul of English culture. For this joyous moment Dyson produces a long flowing melody in march tempo as the merry company take the road and then at the end an off stage horn calls a sort of reveille saluting the pilgrims as they ride into legend.
The Overture "At The Tabard Inn" takes some of the finest music from the main work (especially the music for the poor parson) and forms it into a 12 minute orchestral overture which has an almost Meistersinger-like joyfulness and vivacity.
In "Honour of the City" for Orchestra and large choir is a muscular celebration of the colourfulness of a great city and deserves to be heard more often. The London it describes is the London by the Thames (exquisitely evoked with a modulating melody) and we even have an appearance by that most Londonesque of sounds the chimes of Big Ben.
How to sum up? Tuneful, unaffected, heartfelt and beautiful music played and sung with deep affection and understanding is a fair tribute to this national musical treasure.
I have already posted this review elsewhere, but as this work has been issued in more than one format, I thought that it might be useful to add it as appropriate. Others will, no doubt, have written authoritatively about the quality of the recording or the transfer, but I have confined myself largely to the merits of the performance. I would urge you, however, to search out the cheapest version!
There are some CDs you buy on a whim, a purchase dictated sometimes by a desire to discover an unfamiliar work or composer, sometimes by the performing forces involved and sometimes, I'm slightly embarrassed to admit, by the CD cover!
All three elements played a role in this particular purchase, but what a great discovery this has been of a work which undoubtedly deserves to be better known and, moreover, performed more frequently.
Until his recent "rediscovery", the traditional, optimistic music of Sir George Dyson had suffered almost total neglect during the latter half of the twentieth century, when it was seen as being out of tune with the times.
The main work on this two-disc set, "The Canterbury Pilgrims", was first performed in 1930 with a trio of distinguished soloists including the soprano Isobel Baillie. The work sprang from a deep conviction on the part of the composer as to the practical needs of the English choral movement which had, he felt, an over-reliance on the music of the past. The work remained popular throughout the 30s and 40s and it is surprising that it fell so far from favour, given its endless stream of uncomplicated, vivacious and tuneful music which is both warm and direct in its appeal. Dyson depicts the various pilgrims with flair and wit; his musical portrait of the Poor Parson is especially effective.
The recording, which had been preceded by a concert revival at the Barbican, was made in 1996. The work is lovingly conducted by the late Richard Hickox, that great champion of British music. The three soloists all do very well on the whole. Yvonne Kenny has a lovely soprano voice, even if I do not find her quite as verbally acute as her male colleagues. Although he sings well enough, I would have preferred a more robust baritone than the one fielded here by Stephen Roberts (he is rather weak at the bottom), but pride of place must go to Robert Tear; his tenor voice may not have been to everyone's taste (it was very much to mine!), but how he uses it with intelligence and musical sensitivity! He was a splendid artist. The London Symphony Chorus sings lustily and the LSO shows a real affinity for this music.
The opening track on the disc, the tuneful and evocative concert overture "At the Tabard Inn" was written in 1943 and was intended as a prelude to "The Canterbury Pilgrims", while the recording ends in splendid fashion with a performance of Dyson's first choral work, "In Honour of the City", a bustling, ceremonial work based on texts by the Scottish poet William Dunbar.
This is a recording well worth discovering.
on 4 February 2002
Sir George Dyson is virtually unknown by today's choral societies, but has produced a superb masterpiece that history seems to have forgotten.
The piece is based on the summary of the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, and covers a simgle evening in a hostelry in Cheapside, London.
The music itself is enormously varied, mainly very late romantic in style, and is sufficiently unlike any other contemporary work to make it worthy of note. There is the use of almost every musical device known - sonata form, fugue, theme and vaiation, leitmotivs etc. etc. - and each movement is a jewel of superb craftsmanship.
On top of this there is a wonderful bonus - there are some jolly good tunes, you can hum along with. I always rate this as a gift not given to as many composers as lay claimm to it!
The reason I give this recording 4 stars is because the soloists really do let the piece down. The recording is somewhat echoey in places, where it shouldn't be and there's too much Wagnerian style singing for my liking.
Unfortunately there is no other recording available at the moment, so it's Hobson's choice. You either get to hear the superb choir and orchestra let down by the solists, and get a copy and enjoy a different view of British composition in the 1930s. - or you just miss a wonderful experience.
As a trained musician myself, I get enormous pleasure from listening to the craftsmanship and wit of the orchestration.
on 15 March 2013
I write only to support what other reviewers have said. That this work by Dyson has fallen into neglect is simply baffling. It has everything to delight the listener - memorable music, vivid characterization, a rewarding part for the chorus, splendid solo parts and superb writing for the orchestra. As with Chaucer's Prologue, the music is by turns vigorous and tender, rollicking and hushed, robust and devout. Yet, as an excellent recent performance at the Three Choirs Festival showed, it is still possible to find professional critics who feel obliged to dismiss the work - perhaps for the very reason that people hear it and enjoy it. Ignore such critics. Listen instead to one of the finest and most life-enhancing choral works to come from an English composer. And what a bonus to have Dyson's setting of William Dunbar's poem In Honour of the City - a setting which completely outshines Walton's disappointing work on the same text.
Opinions will vary about the merits of the soloists on this recording and about matters of sound and balance. Put this to one side, buy the recording and prepare for undiluted pleasure. And then explore some of Dyson's other music - not least pieces like his choral work Hierusalem, written in his old age when he entered a remarkable Indian summer as a composer.
on 17 July 2012
Dyson seems to be making a comeback. Could this CD have helped? It's English music at its finest, directed by the man who has done more for English music than anybody: Richard Hickox CBE (should have been a knighthood, of course). Beautifully played and recorded, by Chandos as usual.
on 20 December 2014
Composed around five years before Orff's work, Dyson’s brilliant ‘Canterbury Pilgrims’ celebrates all of the same glorious secular themes, from Spring, taverns with good company, clergymen of varying qualities, and Love. Where Orff and Hofmann had to select and organise snatches from 254 11-13th C. poems of varying quality and tongue, Geoffrey Chaucer provides a readymade 'Pictures from an Exhibition' of 14th century life in vivid Middle English (everybody has heard of these... how many have read?). A composer tackling the detailed strength of the character descriptions has to be a master craftsman and must settle for equal shares with the poet. Dyson's beautifully crafted music serves 'the Father of English Literature' supremely well and the pairing produces something just as enjoyable as the Orff-minnesinger combo. It's a mystery why 'The Canterbury Pilgrims' isn't seen as our English 'Carmina' and is not as well cherished. Not wild... but a vivid, high-definition world.
There is sumptuous variety and beautiful internal balance. Everyone's favourite Parson is presaged by the dedicated Clerk; both teach; the Clerk learns to excess, the Parson practices what he teaches 'up-front'; the music connects and contrasts beautifully. The Wife is intensely of the moment (except perhaps in her weaving?) but the Prioress has her fey side - the choir swelling in a climactic 'Amor vincit Omnia' - a glorious paean to Love and not a million miles from the climax of Orff's court of love, 'Blanziflor et Helena'. ('Amor' is one of the few moments Dyson allows his imagination to extrapolate the text - and he didn't get it from her tale...). There is great scope for the soloists to give full rein to their characters and in this recording they play them to the maximum (and only occasionally beyond); the trickling of gold through the fingers of the Doctor is memorable.
A marvellous recording of a marvellous work, to be treasured.
on 2 November 2012
Exciting and gloriously melodic music, Superb performances and top technical recording. If you are a music lover, do get it.
on 5 January 2015