Although this disc has only recently been received by this
reviewer it was in fact recorded in 2005. It can however be
seen as a 85th birthday present to this versatile
and fascinating English composer (see also a recent Campion
Cameo release). Although Dodgson has written for the orchestra
as well as a
I have always associated him with the guitar; not surprising
really as his first “efforts for the box” as he
writes in the booklet notes were in the early 1950s. Later
on Julian Bream persuaded him to write a concerto and soon
after some especially tricky studies.
The disc takes it name from the first work, ‘Watersmeet’,
written for the rare combination of guitar and guitar quartet.
Roger Wright, a guitarist, apparently conducts it although
he is not directly credited on the CD box. It is a contrapuntal
piece - the composer in his liner notes calls it linear, It
should be imagined that each guitar in the ensemble represents
a stream and these coalesce. The solo guitar plays a folding
and unfolding descant around the quartet ensemble. It’s
a refreshing and pleasing texture that might have outstayed
its welcome but ends on a gentle major chord just at the right
The second work is a lovely song-cycle ‘London Lyrics’.
Dodgson was born in London and lives there still. It was the
first poem by Pierre Motteux (d.1718) about 18th Century
London that sparked the work off. The other settings are by
Owen, the ghostly and spare ‘Shadwell Stair’, Clough,
the amusing Rostrevor-Hamilton and finally ‘River Music’ a
magical setting of C. Day Lewis. Dodgson’s language is
ideal for the guitar - which is best when playing diatonic
music - being tonal but with chromatic inflections and side-steps.
The vocal line seems to be a rewarding sing and Neil Jenkins
who gave the work its first performance in the late 1970s still
sounds in lustrous voice. Indeed I recently saw him in ‘A
Streetcar named desire’ and wondered why he was not regarded
as one of our very top tenors.
The Partita No. 4 is for solo guitar was written for a then
very young Nicola Hall for a solo Cheltenham recital. Sadly
I am not familiar with the other Partitas but here I am a little
confused. Two solo guitarists are named on the disc; another,
Roger Wright is written about in the booklet. I list them above,
but, unless I have stupidly missed something I am not sure
who plays which piece and certainly who plays this Partita.
I am making an assumption that it is the ‘main man’ Jonathan
Leathwood because in his liner notes he comments knowledgeably “One
thinks of the first movement of the Fourth Partita, stark and
brooding with flashes of wildness”. The composer, in
his notes, remarks that he wanted “to mirror Nicola Hall’s
temperamental excitement and instinct for projection and expressive
variety”, but no matter who is playing this is a marvellous
work superbly and vividly captured both by the player and by
the engineers. St Andrews Church, Toddington is regularly used
by various companies as it is remotely and quietly set in the
park of Lord Sudeley’s Gloucestershire estate. It is
a cavernous purbeck marble church by G.E.Street with a superb
acoustic. This helps enormously in a work such as this. The
Partita falls into four movements with some exciting and original
writing ending with a powerful “Energetic but measured” rondo.
The combination of a Duet for cello and guitar may be new to
many but it is not uncommon. Rubbra composed his ‘Discourse’ in
1969 and I myself have written for this pairing (‘The
Fire of Love’- 1988). It works beautifully and more composers
should discover it. This is a large-scale piece, the longest
on the CD, written for Rohan de Saram and John Williams for
an all-Dodgson concert. The work is in six movements alternating
slow with fast. An ‘Arabesque’ and ‘Invention’ are
followed by an over-long Nocturne with some interesting effects
such as ‘tambur’ on the guitar, glissando pizzicato
and cello harmonics. Then there’s a Shostakovich-type
March. ‘Vigil’ is a cello melody over a ground
bass. The works ends with a delightful and fleeting ‘Bagatelle’.
How good, in this wonderful performance, to hear Rohan de Saram
sounding in such good form.
The idea of massed guitars may be something of a nightmare
for you but the last track should dispel that fear. It is enchanting
and imaginative fantasy really, around the medieval Christmas
melody ‘Personent Hodie’. Not only are recorded
here the Tetra guitar quartet and the Aquarelle Guitar Quartet
but we also hear the off-stage Appassionata Guitar Trio who
play music in what the composer calls a “distilling of
single phrases of the tune in a sweet and lingering harmony” against
the massed groups who imitate a “jumbled pattern of chattering
voices”. The work was written for a Hungarian Guitar
Festival at Esztergom for the “spectacular closing concert”.
I am amazed how well it all stays together in this recording
and how well spaced across the sound spectrum it is. A truly
clever piece, wonderfully prepared.
An interesting disc then, with a fine array of performers,
worth exploring as it demonstrates how the guitar can be used
in such a variety of guises from huge ensembles to solos, by
a composer who is so very sensitive to the instrument’s