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STEPHEN DODGSON - orchestral music
Flute Concerto (1990-91) *
Last of the Leaves -cantata for bass, clarinet and strings (1973) **
Duo Concerto for violin, guitar and strings (1989) ***
* Robert Stallman (flute) ** Michael George (bass) John Bradbury (clarinet) *** Jean-Jacques Kantorow (violin) Anthea Gifford (guitar) Northern Sinfonia/Ronald Zollman
rec Newcastle-upon-Tyne 23-24 Oct 1992 world premiere recordings BIDDULPH LAW 013 [57.16]

Having reviewed Bernard Roberts two CDs of the Dodgson piano sonatas the composer has been good enough to send me two other discs for review.

The present CD accommodates three succinctly expressed works (two concertos and a cantata) into just short of an hour. This is perhaps a minor cause for grumble: there was space for at least one further work and at the end of the disc you WANT to hear more.

Stylistically the Flute Concerto is from a similar DNA strand as the Nielsen Flute Concerto wrenched, ever so gently, towards the Gallic coastline. Robert Stallman admirably soliloquises in the first movement and dashes and dreams through the central movement. An austere Sibelianism opens the finale which in its more hurried moments links hands with Shostakovich. The music is epigrammatic - a hallmark of Dodgson's.

The song cycle sets poems by a splendid selection of non-fashionable poets (the full texts are given): Dobson, Rhys, Chesterton, H H Monro. Michael George (one of my favourite singers - a truly lyric bass) carries the difficult vocal line superbly and acts as well as sings the words as the clarinet of John Bradbury swoops (listen to the braying in The Donkey), croons and comments on the words. A shorthand comparison (always heavy with distortion and generalisation) suggests Britten. If you like the Serenade you need to hear this. The composer sees this work as a turning point in his quest for "expressive directness coupled with economy of means."

The Duo Concerto (5 movements) is concise and flighty with neither soloist in a subordinate role. The combined instrumental lines are clean, uncluttered and translucent. There is no 'fat' in this music and at times (as in the andante and the finale) this leaves some very spare textures indeed. The violin's track often has the intoxication of Tippett's lyricism amplified by the naturally romantic tones of the guitar. There are two other concertos for solo guitar - the first recorded by John Williams for Sony-CBS.

The composer's notes are refreshingly non-technical and like his music accessible to all. I am left wanting to hear more.


Rob Barnett

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Rob Barnett

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