Sonata No. 3 is the best introduction to Stephen Dodgson and his piano music.
Stephen DODGSON (1924-2013)
Piano Sonatas Volume 2
Piano Sonata No. 1 (1959) [16:11]
Piano Sonata No. 3 – Variations on a Rhythm (1983) [23:37]
Piano Sonata No. 6 (1994) [27:04]
Bernard Roberts (piano)
CLAUDIO RECORDS CC4941-2 [66:44]
In my review of volume one I said that I hoped that volume two of Bernard Roberts’s survey of the piano sonatas of Stephen Dodgson would reappear soon, and within a month here it is. I am glad to say that it carries on from the excellent presentation of the previous record and produces another wonderful disc that all fans of the music of Dodgson will want. Sadly, as of yet, no one seems to have taken up the Piano Sonata No. 7 of 2003, so let us hope that this will be recorded by an enterprising record label soon.
The First Sonata was not Dodgson’s first attempt in the medium, with two earlier examples in C sharp minor (1950) and in B Major (1951). However, these were shelved, the present Sonata in F of 1959 becoming the composer’s first mature example. In the opening movement, the opening motif is instantly repeated and then expanded before being replaced by a rhythmic, dotted second theme. The music then returns to a more disjointed style. The second movement opens with a theme reminiscent of that in the first movement with its rising short motif, before the more expansive second theme takes over. This is interrupted at times with short outbursts of more dissonant music. The final movement begins with a trill-like theme in the right hand, leading to a more lyrical section which is interspersed with short snatches of the trill theme before it takes over completely and rushes to the work’s conclusion.
The Sonata No. 3 differs from the others in this series in that the usual three movements are replaced with a series of variations, some thirteen index points in all. However, these variations are still divided into three sections. This is the most complex, as well as most rewarding of his sonatas. As the subtitle suggests, the variations are based upon a rhythm rather than a theme as would be more usual. It opens with a slow presentation of the rhythm, which acts as the thematic material for the whole work, with varied and, at times, quite diverse presentations require take close attention to make sure that the same rhythmic pulse is present, before the final slow presentation of the rhythm finishes the work in a manner close to how it all began. This is a piece that requires repeated listening. You hear more in it every time you hear it, and for this reason it has proven to be my favourite and the most rewarding of the six sonatas I have heard.
The Sixth Sonata was Dodgson’s final sonata at the time of recording, with the Seventh and last sonata appearing some four years after the recording sessions. In some ways this is the most English of the six that I know, with tinges of Arnold Bax as well as the later composers Lennox Berkeley and Alan Rawsthorne. It is again in three movements with some nice dance-like material, especially in the first movement. The central movement contains some more agitated rhythmic passages while the finale is a “chaconne-like” set of variations on a theme that makes a sustained appearance again towards the end of the movement.
This is a fine companion disc to volume one, one which provides further proof that Stephen Dodgson was an accomplished composer for the piano, whilst the playing of Bernard Roberts is excellent once again. The booklet notes on the music by Malcom Miller are very good, although I do think they presume a rather advanced knowledge and understanding of musical terminology. I agree with Rob that a little more biographical information would have been nice, but now that Dodgson and his music is becoming more readily available, information is more easily tracked down, with a website dedicated to the composer and his music as well as an entry in the pages of a certain well-known internet encyclopaedia. As with the first volume, the recorded sound is very good with the piano sound coming across well. I would also agree with Rob, that if you wanted to dip you toe in the water to try out Dodgson’s piano music with just a single disc, then this disc is the one to choose, with the Sonata No. 3 acting as the best example of the composer and his music.