Dodgson Orchestral & Vocal Works
Biddulph, the label which has done such sterling work in publishing archive recordings of great violinists and others, here ventures into the field of new music with excellent performances, well recorded, of three works by Stephen Dodgson, two of them recent. As Dodgson says in his illuminating note, ''I have developed a particular fondness for music which outwardly has the manner of a divertimento, but inwardly is quite otherwise.''All three of these works illustrate that equivocal quality in Dodgson's writing, not least the Flute Concerto which Dodgson wrote for the American flautist, Robert Stallman, who is also the fine soloist on this disc. It has the unusual layout of two preludial movements, slow leading to fast, before the main rondo-like movement which makes up two-thirds of the work's total length. As Dodgson says, he wanted not only to draw on Stallman's agility and rhythmic flair, but on his ''tonal bloom and subtlety''. So the opening Molto moderato, seemingly trivial, ''here and there turns wistful and uncertain'', thanks to ''simple harmonies which lack repose because of tonal ambiguity''. It is finally ''pounced upon'' by the Puckish scherzo, before the work settles down to the final episodic rondo. That alternates Vivace sections, rather Hindemithian in their jagged rhythms, with more relaxed sections, well contrasted. Beautifully written, it is ideally performed here with the equivocal hint of melancholy well suggested in the soloist's expressiveness and tonal shading.
The Duo Concerto, dating from 1989, is equivocal not only in its moods but also in its structure—five short movements that interlace, with thematic overlaps—and in the very forces used. Dodgson admits that the combination of solo violin and guitar presented serious problems, and deft as his writing is, inevitably there is a discrepancy between the two instruments. The work does not entirely avoid the stop-and-start impression that you get in many guitar concertos, but with its hints of an English Stravinsky, this is another work that is at once thoughtful and charming.
Last of the Leaves is a cantata for bass soloist accompanied by clarinet and strings, and as the title suggests (taken from the longest poem set, The Leaf Burners by Ernest Rhys), this is more consistently autumnal and elegiac. The image of leaves being burnt is used as a metaphor for the tragic loss of life in the First World War, and the result is the more moving for its relative reticence. Framing the work are settings of poems by other poets now neglected, Austin Dobson and Harold Monro, with the necessary contrast provided by the best-known poem, G. K. Chesterton's The Donkey, light-hearted, leading up to its surprise reference at the end to Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Though Michael George's noble bass voice is not as sweetly caught as it might be, it is a tenderly moving performance with John Bradbury, son of a famous clarinettist father, equally expressive, and with the Belgian conductor, Ronald Zollman, as in the other works, an ever-sympathetic accompanist.'