WORKS: Essays for Orchestra Nos 1-5
PERFORMER: Royal Scottish NO/David Lloyd-Jones
CATALOGUE NO: CDLX 7236
Composers, like the rest of us, have to be the way they are: and if you’re as naturally prolific as Stephen Dodgson, it’s therefore missing the point to expect every work from him to excel. That said, his string quartets, released on Dutton Epoch last year, turned out to be an impressively inventive and consistent cycle by any standards. Which is not the case, unfortunately, regarding the first five of his Essays for Orchestra.
Written in the early 1980s, each of these tight single-movement designs explores ideas that, in Dodgson’s own words, are ‘concentrated and unified more than contrasted’. Sure enough, the scoring and musical argument of each work is crystal-clear. But the ideas themselves, with the exception of one Essay, rather too often lack the kind of individuality that’s needed to grasp and hold the ear.
That exception is No. 3, whose spare and beautiful main idea for strings is never quite subverted by brisk intervening sallies from elsewhere in the orchestra. These vividly and incisively characterised performances give the music every possible chance. Malcolm Hayes