DODGSON: Septet Variations; Pastoral Sonata; Solway Suite; Echoes of Autumn ; Sonata for Three; Capriccio and Finale.
Craig Ogden (gtr), Tanya Houghton ( Harp) and Karolos (Harriet Mackenzie & Philippa Mo (violins), Sarah-Jane Bradley (viola) & Graham Walker (cello), Juliette Bausor (flute), Maximiliano Martín (clarinet).
English composer Stephen Dodgson was one of those composers who wrote many works for guitar without actually being able to play it, a feat which at first seems unlikely until you consider all the composers who wrote for Segovia at the start of the 20th Century, including Castelnuovo – Tedesco, Falla, Turina, Moreno Torroba and Ponce, and numerous others, none of whom played the guitar.
This disc of his chamber music has only three works involving the guitar so those are the ones that I will spend most of the review on, as the other three are outside the remit of this review site. The three pieces that do have the guitar are slightly unusual in their instrumental groupings, and amount to 33 minutes of the total of 81 on this recording.
The first work is the Pastoral Sonata for flute, cello and guitar, set in three movements Overture, Elegy and Carnival. Like much of Dodgson’s work it is immediately in a soundworld of its own, with key construction being unusual. If the word ‘Pastoral ‘ might make you think of countryside , Vaughan Williams, or the suchlike , then this doesn’t sit in the same style at all. The Overture at times almost seems to have the three instruments just playing and taking no notice of each other, it is that individual. The Elegy is mournful with the cello and flute taking the first themes and the guitar providing long – held chords. Again the harmonic quality is unusual, and at times atonal in sound. The final Carnival is fast and relentless but the odd musical harmony does not necessarily endear you to this movement either, and I found this work completely uninvolving in every way, wonderful though the performance no doubt was.
Echoes of Autumn, for viola and guitar, begins with the guitar playing arpeggios that repeat, almost like a motto, with the viola playing a very legato melody that once again does not seem to occupy a particular key for very long, and I find it difficult to see where his musical inspiration comes from, because these pieces sound like nothing I have heard of before, even though there are moments of melodic inspiration that one recognizes and can associate with.
Sonata for three, composed for flute viola and guitar is the earliest of the pieces here, and it does have a harmonic structure that one can warm to. Set in three movements with an Allegro Deciso opening that has all three instruments moving swiftly around with many off beat rhythms as they go. This very short movement then changes to a Lento that is mournful and occupying a mysterious sound world that begins to move to the almost atonal style that he will write in in the years following. The final Agitato is exactly what it says in the title, jumpy, excited in a not very pleasant way, and constantly on the move. There are also some glissandi on the flute that really do sound very strange indeed, clever though they no doubt are to actually play.
The other works are not involving the guitar, but suffice it to say that is you like Dodgson’s music they will be right up your street, which they were definitely not for me. I found his music bizarre, tuneless, I couldn’t ‘feel’ anything at all when listening to them, because I could not see where he was coming from in his music and therefore could not enjoy it in any respect whatsoever.
The performances were, as far as I can tell, superb, and so was the recording.