Stephen Dodgson Chamber Music Volume Two
Piano Quintets—No 1 in C*; No 2*.
String Quintet in B flat**
Tippett String Quartet
*Emma Abbate (piano)
**Susan Monks (cello)
Toccata Classics TOCC 0357
The first volume of Toccata Classics’ survey of Stephen Dodgson’s chamber music covered his complete works for cello and piano (TOCC 0353), played by cellist Evva Mizerska and pianist Emma Abbate. The second instalment also involves Abbate in the two Piano Quintets (1966; 1999), which are separated by the String Quintet composed midway between them, in 1986. As in the first volume, Dodgson (1924-2013) is revealed in these three works as a natural chamber music composer. John Warrack’s fine booklet note pays me the compliment of quoting the obituary of Dodgson I wrote for The Gramophone where I commented that his “mature style was one of refinement, sitting somewhere between post-Romanticism and Neoclassicism” while noting “often angular melodies have a knack of registering in the memory and are beautifully laid out for the instruments.” However, it is the quote from John Turner’s piece for The Guardian that furnishes two words that are far more pertinent as an assessment of Dodgson’s music: “intensely appealing”.
The First Quintet was commissioned to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066. By no means a programmatic work, elements of the occasion for which it was commissioned affected its expressive profile and Dodgson pressed into service his experience in writing incidental music for BBC historical dramas to create a genuine piece of chamber music that at times evokes the smoke, clash of arms and shifting fortunes of the battlefield. The four movements chart a progression of mood and pace that echoes the progress of the Norman conquerors, from a preludial Largo that is not unlike the exposition of a sonata, while the ensuing Andantino and Allegro assai evoke the invasion and denouement on Senlac Hill. The clangourous, concluding Maestoso has a double-edged feel to it, celebration for the conquerors, not so much for the vanquished English.
The Second Quintet also had a celebratory impetus though of a quite different kind, looking forward to the Millennium at the time some months in the future. Its three movements follow a standard fast-slow-fast format, the outer movements fully scored and vigorous while the central nocturne is muted and evanescent. The String Quintet—which uses a second cello rather than second viola—is a more elusive work, not commemorative in inspiration, its three movements abstract in design but again quite gripping in its musical flow.
The performances by the Tippett Quartet and the nimble-fingered Emma Abbate in the Piano Quintets and Susan Monks as the additional cellist in the String Quintet are a model of chamber ensemble playing. Their understanding is palpable and the ensemble flawless, the effect one of total refinement—just like Dodgson’s music. The sound is superb, the recordings having been made in the church of St Silas the Martyr in Kentish Town. A truly wonderful disc and another winner from Toccata Classics.