STEPHEN DODGSON (1924-2013): Piano Sonatas No. 1, No. 3 “Variations on a Rhythm” and No. 6.
Catalogue Number: 08V047
Description: Only a small proportion of this prolific composer’s output was for solo piano - this disc contains the other half of the piano sonatas not included on 07V048 last month - but he was as adept at writing for the instrument as for the many chamber ensembles for which he is better known. The pieces are as articulate, clear, and meticulously crafted as the rest of his output. The music is tonal, and written with a more than thorough understanding of the piano, though there is relatively little thunderous, barnstorming heavy Romanticism and no tumultuous modernity; Dodgson's character was one of finely turned English wit, humor, and profound thoughts expressed in clear, precise prose, not thundered from the pulpit, and his virtuosic requirements, while considerable, are of the scintillating, figurative type. The ongoing, fruitful collaboration with Bernard Roberts introduced more assurance in bravura writing; the final section of the 3rd Sonata, written for Roberts, contains a powerful bravura climax. The First Sonata is very neoclassical, with sonata-form first and second movements and a rondo finale. Dodgson's elegant and thorough development of themes is very much a trademark of his music, and is very evident in this 1959 work. The slow movement is particularly lovely, with warm, expressive harmonies underpinning the development of its themes. The Third Sonata is meticulously built on a clever, characteristically eccentric idea; three sections that equate to the movements of a classical sonata, each comprising variations not on a series of notes but a succession of rhythmic groups (which the composer helpfully wrote out as a witty epigram). The second variations pass through the usual range of moods and textures, introversion and extroversion, with augmentation of the 'theme' by analogy with conventional variations. A stipulation of the commission for this sonata was that it pay tribute to Bach in his tricentennial year (1985); Dodgson fulfilled this requirement in the central 'movement', one extended variation cast as in three-part counterpoint. The finale consists of six variations, which rise to an energetic climax followed by a serene conclusion. The Sixth returns to the understated textures and sparkling, sometimes caustic, wit more characteristic of the composer’s output. The first movement moves along with lively propulsion, too varied to be called motoric, let alone minimalist. The scherzo makes much of lively syncopation, with a mood of gruff but friendly humor. The last movement is like a very free chaconne, based on a recurring bass theme heard at the start. A variety of themes and motifs are introduced in a wide-ranging movement characterized by unstable, shifting tonal harmony and unpredictability of expression. Bernard Roberts (piano). Original 1999 release.