DODGSON String Trios nos. 1 & 2; Violin Sonatina in B minor; Caprice after Puck; Cello Partita
NAXOS 8 573856
Astringent, lyrical 20th-century English music well worth discovering.
Stephen Dodgson (1924–2014) is best known as a composer for the classical guitar – his interest in the instrument encouraged by Julian Bream – although his body of work covers every genre from large-scale choral and symphonic to solo recorder and harpsichord repertoire. The solo string music here speaks with a voice not obviously indebted to any one ‘school’, being by and large quick-witted and searching in temperament, admitting sudden but not overwhelming turns of melancholy.
The performances (by Karolos, a flexibly constituted group of UK-based musicians) and recording are everything one could wish for: focused and lively, with no hint of studio routine or patching. Aided by minimal gaps between its nine movements, Graham Walker brings a compelling sense of line to the Cello Partita. Melodic continuity assures the success of the quarter-hour Caprice after Puck for solo violin; Sarah-Jane Bradley builds up a vivid portrait variation by variation like an artist layering paint on a canvas. The angular, Bartókian flavour of the four-movement Violin Sonatina present Harriet Mackenzie with fewer narrative challenges, and she addresses them with an enviably full tone and no shortage of subtle variations in vibrato.
The ‘main’ works on the album are a pair of string trios composed in 1951 and 1964 respectively. Both are dominated by yearning central slow movements, and neither entirely emerges from a shadow cast by Bartók, at least until the ostinato patterns of the Second’s finale propel us towards a more distinctive and recognisably English homecoming via a series of bittersweet, Tippettian lyric episodes.