Stephen DODGSON (b.
1926) Dialogues - The Music of Stephen Dodgson, Vol.
Dialogues, for guitar and harpsichord (1976) [11:44]
The Troubled Midnight, for guitar (1990) [4:18]
Suite No. 1, for clavichord (1967, rev. 2006) [15:53]
Suite No. 2, for clavichord (1969, rev. 2006) [12:42]
Sketchbook, for two lutes (1983) [14:48]
Roberto Morón Pérez (guitar); Julian Perkins (clavichord);
Pawel Siwczak (harpsichord); Elizabeth Kenny (lute); Jacob Heringman
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, U.K.,
11-13 August 2008
CAMPION CAMEO 2088 [59:25]
The anonymous writer of the booklet notes accompanying this
issue makes much of the fact that Stephen Dodgson is a composer
who relishes commissions. Indeed the list of musicians for whom
he has written is an impressive one. For those who know his
music only slightly, it is probably the music for guitar, and
his collaboration with John Williams, that will come to mind.
Two concertos, for example, were composed for Williams, and
recorded by him for CBS. He is a most versatile composer, however,
and if the majority of his works are on a small scale this is
again a reflection of the fact that he usually composes to order.
Larger scale works have appeared - I remember attending a concert
in the seventies in which Denys Darlow conducted a Te Deum,
for example - but the twenty-five short pieces which make up
the works on this disc seem more typical of him than more extended
Allied to his willingness, perhaps even a preference, to compose
for particular musicians, is a highly developed sense of craftsmanship,
ensuring that the music is perfectly suited to the forces employed.
As a teacher, for example, he insisted that music written for
harpsichord should not look like that written for piano. The
works on this disc attest to that skill, but one would be wrong
to stop there, as any listener who takes the trouble to do so
will discover music which is in itself both challenging and
The first Suite for clavichord was composed in 1967,
but, like the second, which dates from 1969, was extensively
revised after the composer attended a meeting of the British
Clavichord Society in 2006 and was struck anew by the instrument’s
scope and potential. Listening to this fastidious music one
gains the impression that it was not the composer’s intention
to reinvent the instrument for the twentieth century, and even
less to indulge in any kind of neo-classical exercise. Nonetheless,
the titles of the eight short movements - Little Fanfare,
First Air, Plaint, Pantomime, Greater
Fanfare, Second Air, Tambourin, Last Air
- give a clue to the nature of the music, and the use of dotted
rhythms and other, less easily defined stylistic features, brings
to the music an unmistakeable Elizabethan flavour. Dodgson’s
musical language is quite individual, and even here, writing
for what Frank Dawes - quoted in the booklet - described at
“that gentlest of keyboard instruments”, the “twangy”
nature of the writing which so impressed John Williams is certainly
present. Some of these pieces are easily taken in on a first
hearing, the beautiful and tonally expressed Second Air,
for example, and the grave and brooding opening fanfare. Then
the closing fanfare, calm and resolved, admirably demonstrates
the composer’s mastery of narrative drama, even within
such a short piece. This is not, though, music which gives up
its secrets easily, but it will reward, and richly, those who
are patient enough to live with it for a while. Suite No.
2, just as rewarding, is even a slighter tougher nut. Among
the six movements one signals the dotted rhythms which again
feature in the Overture, and the Second Fanfare,
which features sturdy triplets passed between the hands. A
Fancy follows, touching and elusive, and precedes the final,
exuberant Round Dance. There is a certain darkness here,
and in spite of the Frank Dawes comment quoted above, this is
surprisingly muscular music.
Toughness and darkness are also features of the piece for guitar
and harpsichord, Dialogues. Quite a lot of the writing
gives prominence alternately to one of the instruments whilst
the other accompanies, and the title of the work is derived
from this. The opening and closing movements are forceful, enclosing
two which are calmer and more obviously expressive.
The jewel in this set is probably Sketchbook for two
lutes. It began life as two pieces, Ricercar and Cantilena,
composed Chris Wilson and Tom Finucane and so much appreciated
by them that four other pieces were later added. (The booklet
notes refer to “an accumulation of contrasted pieces rather
than a structured sequence.”) The composer was apparently
uncertain about this commission, but the resulting music is,
once again, perfectly suited to the rather unusual medium. Ricercar
is now the first piece of the six, and is a perfect miniature,
expertly balanced and timed, quite simply, an exquisite little
gem. In the second piece, Their Separate Ways, each instrument
is given music of a different character, the one calm and reasoned,
the other nervous and unsettled. I think calm reason wins, though
the other voice is hardly silenced. There is a short, witty
Fughetta before the two final pieces, Plaint and
Farewell, each of which explores a wider harmonic vocabulary
than the earlier pieces, producing thereby a certain melancholy
not at all at odds with accepted notions of the instrument and
its Elizabethan associations.
If one discounts the revisions of the two Suites, the
most recent music on this disc is the guitar solo The Troubled
Midnight. Commissioned by an Italian publishing house, this
is, as its title would suggest, a nocturne, but one in which
the calm of the night is disturbed by troubled thoughts. The
piece never once steps out of its night-time apparel, yet a
wide variety of guitar techniques is employed. It closes on
a gently strummed, comforting chord which, coming almost by
surprise, as it were out of the blue, leaves the listener to
sit on in silence with nothing resolved, though a little wiser,
perhaps, than at the beginning.
The composer is named as co-producer of this disc, so we can
be sure that the excellent recorded sound met his requirements.
He will surely have been happy with the performances too, as
they seem quite beyond criticism. It isn’t absolutely
clear from the booklet which of the remarkable keyboard players
is at the harpsichord and which at the clavichord, but after
much searching I think the credits above are probably correct.
The booklet notes are excellent. In brief, anyone interested
in music of the utmost integrity, always very individual and
often very beautiful, should not hesitate.
As the recording producer of the CD 'Dialogues - The music
of Stephen Dodgson, Vol.2' so appreciatively reviewed today
by William Hedley I would just like to point out a mistake in
the artist listing on the disc. The harpsichordist (in Dialogues
for guitar and harpsichord) is Pawel Siwczak, while the two
Suites for Clavichord are played by Julian Perkins.
This was not a mistake by the reviewer (now corrected), but
an oversight by whoever compiled the booklet: as Mr Hedley points
out, it isn't made clear which keyboard player is which.
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