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
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.