Dodgson Music for Oboe
Dodgson Oboe Sonata*. Countdown**. Cor Anglais Sonata*. 3 Winter Songs*,***. Suite in C minor*
James Turnbull (oboe, cor anglais). *Libby Burgess (piano). **Eleanor Turner (harp). ***Robyn Allegra Parton (soprano)
Toccata Classics TOCC 0444 (74 minutter)
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This third volume in Toccata Classics’ series devoted to the chamber music of Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013) focusses on his output for oboe, with a sonata for cor anglais included for (very) good measure.
The Oboe Sonata (1987) that opens the programme is in a very unusual design, six short movements each of which ends well within its potential duration. Overall, the Sonata has the outward appearance of a Baroque suite but beneath the surface, however, the music is tightly organised, as if the elements of a single sonata span has been deconstructed and separated out to reveal unexpected relationships between the different material and their developments. Twenty years earlier, the Cor Anglais Sonata had followed a more conventional yet still compact four-movement format, slow-fast-slow-fast. In both sonatas, Dodgson’s lyrical genius is fully audible and his knack for vividly scored fast writing is much in evidence in the various scherzinos and toccatas with which each abound.
Although shorter than either sonata, the suite for oboe and harp Countdown (1990) has a satisfying weight and substance that belies its small size. A beautifully euphonious work, it originated in a Salute for the 90th birthday of the then British Queen Mother, Elizabeth (mother to the present Queen and grandmother to Prince Charles), in which 90 candles were lit, one per bar of music; hence the subtitle Counting Candles. The three further movements carried on the counting idea, the music deriving its character from the various concepts: Counting Sheep, a nocturne (which will not send one to sleep!); Counting money, a mischievous, rhythmic ‘burlesque’; and Counting your blessings, a concluding gentle dance. It makes an interesting contrast to the C minor Suite for oboe and piano of 1957, an early work where the composer’s characteristic voice was yet to emerge fully.
James Turnbull is an oboist new to me but he has a wonderfully full tone and lively sense of rhythm. He audibly relishes Dodgson’s music and is sensitive to its often challenging demands. He is ably partnered by harpist Eleanor Turner in the Countdown Suite and Libby Burgess in the sonatas, C minor Suite and the three Winter Songs (1972), by a tiny margin the largest set here. The songs make three engaging tone poems for soprano—here Robyn Allegra Parton, whose tone is not entirely to my taste, alas—with the oboe an associate soloist. Excellent sound throughout.