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Simon Callaghan, a devoted specialist in forgotten British repertoire, tackles this varied fare with aplomb.

The complete piano music but not even one sonata, let alone Beethoven's modest 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 Pieces of 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.

Geoff Brown

BBC Music Magazine
BBC Music Magazine

Dyson Piano Music

SOMM Recordings announces the first complete survey on disc of George Dyson’s music for solo piano including five premiere recordings performed by Simon Callaghan in a specially priced two-CD set.

Callaghan is joined by Clíodna Shanahan for the first recording of the two-piano version of Concerto Leggiero, a mature work originally composed for piano and string orchestra. Almost classical in its sense of economy, the two-piano arrangement boasts a remarkable lyricism.

Born in Halifax in 1833, Dyson studied with Charles Villiers Stanford and Hubert Parry before becoming one of the most prominent British composers and distinguished teachers of his generation. Best known for his choral work, his piano music spans his compositional career. Heard in its entirety, it provides valuable new insights into his development as a composer.

Other first recordings include the seven-year-old Dyson’s first work for piano, Untitled Piano Piece, the exam board commission for young pianists, Twelve Easy Pieces, and The Open Window and Six Lyrics, character pieces designed to encourage young pianists.

Among other works included are the Debussy-accented Primrose Mount, the dazzling set of fugues Bach’s Birthday and so-called ‘War Epigrams’, inspired by Dyson’s experiences on the Western Front before being invalided home

Dyson biographer Paul Spicer provides the authoritative booklet notes.