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Stephen DODGSON (b.1924)
Concertino for Two Guitars and Strings Les Dentelles (1998)a
Riversong (1994)
Promenade I (1988)
Pastourelle (1993)
Follow the star (1980)b
Eden-Stell Guitar Duo (Mark Eden, Christopher Stell); Helen Sanderson (guitar)b; Orchestra Novaa; George Vassa
Recorded: Wathen Hall, St Paul’s School, London, October 2001 (Concertino); Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University College, April 2002 (Riversong, Promenade) and May 2002 (Pastourelle, Follow the Star)
BGS RECORDS CD 108 [55:20]


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Dodgson’s love of the guitar is a long-lasting affair, since he repeatedly and consistently composed for the instrument throughout his composing career. Many of his early works for guitar, such as his two guitar concertos, were either written for or heartily championed by John Williams. Some may remember a long-deleted LP in which Williams played the First Guitar Concerto as well as two chamber works (CBS 61841, released 1979, nla and, to the best of my knowledge, never re-issued in CD format). Not surprisingly, Dodgson eventually came to write music for two or more guitars. The repertoire for guitar ensembles is often made of transcriptions either of orchestral pieces or of piano works, but of little original music. Guitar ensembles have, no doubt, thankfully seized Dodgson’s present output for multiple guitars, all of which (at the time of writing) is recorded here.

The remarkable thing about Dodgson’s music for guitar is that it is conspicuously free of the guitar clichés too often associated with the instrument. The pieces recorded here are no exceptions in this respect. The earliest piece, Follow the Star: Fantasy on an old Dutch Christmas hymn for three guitars, deliberately eschews the all-too-obvious traps of guitar writing. The hymn is about the Magi’s journey, hence three players - one for each of the Magi. This lovely work is rounded by a prologue and a coda paraphrasing the first phrase of the hymn. The Star, represented by "short echoing chains of harmonics", links the various episodes. A most welcome addition to the repertoire in any case.

Promenade I of 1988 is a delightful, slightly programmatic, eventful piece. It is full of humour and fancy to be enjoyed for all it is worth. It even includes a dogfight! Incidentally Promenade II roughly re-tells the same story, but is written for wind quintet (I would like to hear it). The lovely Pastourelle of 1993 is similarly fanciful, another piece with a story-line reflecting the usual content of the old French pastourelle. The music roughly illustrates the scenario outlined in four lines from such a pastourelle. We are not told whether or not the music is based on an existing tune. Riversong: A Rhapsody for two Guitars is designed as "a spacious rondo". Its various episodes, linked by the "river music", alternate many different moods surfacing throughout the continuous flow of the music. It is a small-scale tone poem, albeit one for lesser forces than Richard Strauss’s monumental scores for gargantuan forces. A really fine work, all the same.

The story do far … Dodgson’s association with the Eden-Stell Guitar Duo culminates in the beautiful Concertino for two Guitars and Strings "Les Dentelles" (‘The Laces’). It is by far the most substantial work here. The music’s emotional and expressive palette is greater than in the other pieces. In fact it opens with a brooding, rather serious, cello theme. This theme recurs throughout the piece contradicting the guitars’ lighter mood. The light-heartedness of much of the music gives way to a beautifully lyrical reverie in which the cello tune eventually unfolds in complete freedom. No doubt, this is a major addition to the repertoire and a welcome change from the ubiquitous, though quite enjoyable works by Rodrigo. My suggestion is that these fine musicians should now investigate more of this repertoire. They should have a look at Theo Verbey’s lovely Pavane Oubliée, originally for harp but also arranged for guitar duo by the composer.

Dodgson’s elegant, superbly crafted and richly melodic music is a joy to listen to, and is wonderfully served by immaculate performances and very fine recorded sound. A most welcome and attractive release of unfamiliar works by a still underrated composer. I enjoyed this music greatly.

Hubert Culot

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