Piano Music (First Recordings)

Osman Tack piano


Stephen Dodgson was an accomplished and highly professional composer whose music, for some unaccountable reason, did not attract the attention it deserved. Inevitably, luck played a part in how his music was regarded. For example, his Guitar Concerto, written for Julian Bream, ended up being eclipsed by Malcolm Arnold’s work for similar forces.

Another possible reason for Dodgson’s music enjoying less prominence than it merited was that he wrote so much music for instruments that others did not. Few British composers have written so much and so imaginatively for the guitar, and the recorder, and this may have had the effect of separating him somewhat from the mainstream.

It is all the more satisfying, therefore, to be able to welcome this generously filled disc of Dodgson’s piano music. He himself was more than a competent pianist but made no claims to virtuosity. Yet the demands of his solo music for the instrument, primarily in the seven Sonatas, make it clear that he had a complete understanding of the instrument’s potential. Rather as with his music for solo guitar, an instrument he did not play, but of which he had an equally profound understanding.

Robert Matthew-Walker’s excellent notes guide the listener through this wide selection. Much of it will be unfamiliar. The earliest group, Eight Fanciful Pieces, gently introduces the listener to the composer’s distinctive sound world. These, with the Four Moods of the Wind and the Bagatelles, are often impressionistic, even where he confines himself only to performance indications, such as in the second Bagatelle which is marked ‘Lazy Pace; Undulating and Songful’.

The Piano Sonata No.7 (2003) stands apart from the other pieces, being unmistakeably abstract in concept. Lasting over 20 minutes, Dodgson unfailingly maintains the listener’s interest, and despite its length, there is nothing superfluous. His somewhat quirky attitude to tonality might not be to everyone’s taste, but it keeps the music within a recognisable tonal framework, although without sounding constrained. 

Osman Tack is the very accomplished pianist who has complete mastery of the formidable technical difficulties, and the challenging emotional landscape, occupied by this music. A former Chandos Young Performer of the Year, his performances are well characterised, and he has the ability to set the mood of a piece within the first few seconds – vital when playing groups of miniatures where the longest single piece is just over three minutes in duration.

SOMM Recordings are to be commended for their promotion of the music of a composer who has long deserved greater attention. One hopes that this most enjoyable disc may be followed by a second volume.

Review by Martyn Strachan