Piano Sonatas Vol. 1
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1975) [18.35]
Piano Sonata No. 4 (1987) [20.59]
Piano Sonata No. 5 (1992) [19.33]
Bernard Roberts (piano)
CLAUDIO CC4431-2 [59.10]
Piano Sonatas Vol. 2
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1959) [16.11]
Piano Sonata No. 3 Variations on a Rhythm (1983) [21.37]
Piano Sonata No. 6 (1994) [27.14]
Bernard Roberts (piano)
CLAUDIO CC4941-2 [66.44]
Stephen Dodgson is likely to be a name familiar to anyone interested in the
literature of the classical guitar. His music however should be recognised
for a much broader range of achievement
and pleasure. There is a Bassoon
Concerto (premiered by Martin Gatt, no less), a Guitar Concerto recorded
by John Williams during the 1970s. The Idyll - a light music genre piece
- has been broadcast by the London Studio Strings conducted by Timothy Reynish.
In 1975 the BBC broadcast the premiere of his impressive Magnificat for choir
and orchestra. Dodgson was for many years a teacher at the RCM and for four
decades his name has been known to listeners to BBC Radio 3 as a stimulating
reviewer and commentator.
His piano music has not made much headway amongst the torrent of material
produced every year by composers and publishers. The sonatas (or some of
them) have had the odd broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The most notable and challenging
occasion was when Robert Simpson included one of the sonatas (I am sorry,
I don't know which) in one of his 'Innocent Ear' programmes in which music
was played unannounced except by reference to genre (symphony, sonata, string
quartet etc) and only identified afterwards. This sort of challenging exercise
seems to be beyond the BBC at present and was dropped after a few 'shots'
during the 1970s and 1980s.
Bernard Roberts has championed the Dodgson piano sonatas since 1970s. His
premieres of the sonatas are as follows: No. 3 Cheltenham Festival (1985);
No. 4 Dartington Summer School; No. 5 Sixtieth Birthday Concert at Wigmore
Hall (1993) and No. 6 Richmond Concert Society (1997). Bernard Roberts
commissioned all of these.
Volume 1 of these two CDs was issued in Summer 1998 and the second at Christmas
All of the sonatas are characterised by a strong feeling of constant change
and activity. The Second's sense of peaceful benediction is reinforced by
music suggestive of small glacial hammers. Entrancing rough rhythmed repeated
figures fanfare and dance. The second movement (there are only two) closes
with music redolent of sleight of hand in which playing cards are repeatedly
inverted and turned back and inverted and so on. The sonata ends calmly like
a fan quietly folded away.
The Fourth's galloping percussiveness is cheerily Poulencian. This canter
harnesses Petrushka with Gershwin. The music at other times seems to be stepping
through the fragments of rhythmic ideas. There is dissonance here but nothing
to cause panic. That element simply adds savour. Hungarian bagpipes skirl
in the fourth movement which bids farewell in a music-box turn of phrase.
This work offers a dizzying display of shakes and trills, of tensions built
and released in pearly runs of steely fountains of icy waters and slow-stepping
melodic shrapnel. This last element seals the sonata's lips.
A bell-like dissonance rumbles and cannonades through the Fifth Sonata. Rhythmic
ticks, collage-like fragments, hammer-struck icicles, a strolling aggression
and a tumble of bell-calls jostle in the first two movements. Waltonian jazziness
is to be found in the last movement. This element is jumpily pushed several
degrees closer to Bernstein and this is done with a high leavening of dissonance.
The Finale, alive with inventive excitement, brings the house down.
The first sonata has a very English strolling theme decked around with dissonant
'Christmas decoration'. Reference points include music-box Petrushka-isms,
a touch of Beethoven (the fate motif from symphony no. 5) and some deftly
oddball Gallicism (Satie and Milhaud). The music is avant-garde but nowhere
near as tough as the Siegmeister piano music I have recently reviewed. The
sonata ends in roguish cheekiness and a sense of indulgently paid-out 'rope'.
The Third Sonata is, for me, a major discovery. A gracious theme of nostalgic
beauty (matching the heart's-ease of Barber's Knoxville) is presented with
apposite pacing and context. The restful andantino is part Bach and part
Finzi (or that's as close an approximation as I can give) in its night-sky
rumination. There is some horsing around but the music seems to inhabit a
closed world of sideways glances, loving whispers and warm asides. That fine
andante theme rounds out the sonata amid placid waters. There is no trace
of sentimentality. A most impressive and loveable work.
The Sixth Sonata is a much more oblique offering. Tough if you have been
brought up on Ireland and Bax but clearly a work of enduring inspiration.
The memorable episodes include convulsive melody, the manner of an enclosed
garden rendered impressionistically, the sheer beauty of the lightly floating
dance at 6.10 (andante con moto first movement) and the nocturnal manoeuvres
of the finale.
The notes (English only) are by Wilfred Mellers (vol. 1) and Malcolm Miller
(vol. 2). We could have done with a lot more information about Dodgson and
a complete list of his works and a far more detailed biographical essay should
be available on the internet.
The leaflets of both volumes sport the blue and ochre wash of Summer Trees
by artist Clive Randall. This was painted in the composer's garden. On the
back of each of the insert booklets there is a nicely relaxed photograph
of Bernard Roberts and the composer.
Overall, the music on these two discs (will there be more I wonder) conveys
a spirit of grown-up charm, clarity, bell timbres, catchy rhythmic cells
and gamelan fertility.
On the technical side we get first class piano sound. The project is lifted
by the great artistry of Bernard Roberts - excellent both in the articulation
of much dazzling fast music and in probing the poignant heart of the more
reflective sections. I fondly recall his broadcasts of Goldschmidt's piano
sonata and (in 1973) Medtner's Night Wind sonata.
A recommendable pair of discs. If you want to try one first then go for Vol.2
and sonata No. 3. If you don't like that sonata you may need to try something