Dodgson Mirage Piano Music SOMMCD0684

Stephen Dodgson (1924-2013)
Mirage: Piano Music
Eight Fanciful Pieces (1956)
Four Moods of the Wind (1968)
Three Impromptus (1962, revised 1985)
Piano Sonata No 7 (2003)
Six Bagatelles (2005)
Osman Tack (piano)
rec. 2022, Potton Hall, Saxmundham, Suffolk, UK
Somm Recordings SOMMCD0684 [79]

Much of Stephen Dodgson’s work has been recorded, notably on Somm Recordings. That includes songs, brilliant guitar music and most of his string quartets. Here is piano music, some of it in first recordings. But in his centenary year, I have not yet seen live performances announced, and nothing on the radio.

Eight Fanciful Pieces are the earliest here, quite charming and – like the sixth, Mirage, which gives the disc its title – with an air of impressionism about them. Shrovetide Procession may not quite successfully convey the relevant feeling, and The Storm that Comes and Goes is nothing like the recent wild storms. Even so, twenty-two minutes pass pleasantly, with a lovely sense of nostalgia.

The Four Moods of the Wind are also impressionistic, as Robert Matthew-Walker says in his excellent booklet notes, from which I quote with thanks. One must figure out the direction from which the wind is coming from the movements only given Italian speed indications.

In Three Impromptus, we discover a more original and challenging mind at work. One wonders how far the revised version is from the original. The notes say that it is a ‘significant concert work’. At over twelve minutes, the material is indeed ‘unified’ in a ’symphonic fashion’. Harmonically, melodically and formally, the music shows a strong personal character. The Allegro is dramatic and quirky, one might say. The Andante semplice in 6/8 time is unpredictable, so it readily holds one’s attention. The ‘staccato-like dance’ of the Allegretto finale has touches of bi-tonality, wit and humour. Osman Tack brings it out wonderfully.

The longest and arguably most significant work here is the Piano Sonata No 7 in three movements. We hear a somewhat enigmatic Allegro moderato, which varies in tempo despite the marking. Then comes a somewhat diffuse Poco adagio, imbibed with trills and odd passages of counterpoint. Matthew-Walker is full of admiration for Dodgson, and especially for this sonata, which he describes as a masterwork. I have yet to discover its secrets, but I accept that the Allegro vivace – Allegretto – Allegro vivace third movement, the longest, may well be the key to understanding it and Stephen Dodgson. The material is mercurial and tonally unsure, but it has a distinct atmosphere and is often witty, as if chasing its tail. The central Allegretto is almost hymn-like.

Dodgson composed the Six Bagatelles when he was in his early 80s. This is a fascinating, mature and confident language. The short pieces are quirky and have titles like ‘Cryptic and Playful’ and ‘Hollow and Stealthy’. They are in various contrasted states of humour, as it were. The tonality is often a little uncertain, but not atonal. Osman Tack conveys thoughtfully emotions such as erratic and melodramatic.

The notes say that Dodgson’s earliest piano piece is a Rondo in A-flat, a technically challenging five-minute romp. It is available on all digital and streaming services as a download, because it could not be accommodated on this very well filled disc.

Gary Higginson

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