Ask people these days who George Dyson was, and the answer would probably involve vacuum cleaners. But it would be the wrong answer, because Dyson was a composer - of some eminence in the 1930s/40s when he was Director of the Royal College of Music and got a knighthood for it, but largely forgotten now except by singers brought up in the Anglican tradition who will know his settings of the canticles. Dyson in D, in E and so on.

There are larger choral works, though, that periodically got dusted down. The late conductor Richard Hickox was a champion on disc. And as for live performance, there's a rare chance this weekend to hear Dyson's cantata Hierusalem, sung by Hampstead Chamber Choir under its director Dominic Brennan at Rosslyn Hill Chapel.

If the title looks inscrutable, it's nothing more than an archaic version of Jerusalem, the heavenly city; and the text, delivered originally from St Augustine, is a visionary account of paradise - imagined by a yearning soul in therms of opulence and grandeur. Rather like a 5-star hotel from the 1950s when the score was written.

"It's all marble halls and gold", says Brennan, "with the choir already there and the soprano soloist expecting to be soon - which makes it sound like Dream of Gerontius but it's nit, I don't think anybody's dead or dying".

Brennan programmed this exotic curiosity because he got to like it as a student at Durham, where he read music and sang in choirs: something he's been doing ever since. Before taking charge of HCC last September he was already one of its 30 or so members. And his day job isn't unrelated, as music administrator at Cardinal Vaughan School in Holland Park.

It's not a teaching post, but about organising concerts and events. And that a comprehensive school in West London needs someone to do that full-time might seem strange - except that Cardinal Vaughan is a flagship operation of uncommon excellence and takes a special interest in music. Which is why it has forty peripatetic instrumental teacher on its books, runs over 400 music lessons per week, and supplies boy singers to the Royal Opera House and other performing companies.

"We've got boys right now in the Covent Garden Magic Flute and in the King Roger that's about to open", says Brennan, unperturbed by the fact that King Roger is a piece whose exoticism has the potential to be X-certificate. Hierusalem's exoticism is mild mannered by comparison, and family friendly. Children very welcome. And they'll like the tuneful Tippet Negro Spiritual settings that accompany.

Hampstead Chamber Choir sing Dyson, Tippet & Berkley, Sat 21st, 7.30pm, Rosslyn Hill Chapen NW3.

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Re-printed with the permission of the Hampstead and Highgate Express

Author: Michael White
Magazine: Hampstead and Highgate Express
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Dominic Brennan intervies