Dodgson – Piano Trios & Bagatelles – Bernard Roberts Piano Trio – CC5257


“An excellent disc in which the three piano trios are the stars, the performance of these works by the Bernard Roberts Piano Trio is all that you could wish for, with a strong sense of ensemble playing throughout leading to wonderful performances”

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Stephen Dodgson: Piano Trios & Bagatelles

Soon after leaving the Royal College of Music in 1949, 1 had written an ambitious Piano Quartet – I was quite proud of it for some years – but wrote nothing else in the genre until a Piano Quintet in 1966. This was to a commission. So also, the very next year, was my first Piano Trio. This was premiered at the Conway Hall as part of a ‘Music in Our Time Festival’, an audacious forum for (mainly) young composers and performers, brainchild of the pianist Ian Lake, which enlivened the periphery of the London scene over a succession of autumn seasons. I was a happy participant on at least four occasions, two of which have gone on echoing down the years. One was an entertainment called The Old Cigarette- Lighter, the other precursor to undreamed later ventures in trio writing, all of which bear traces of a carefree approach to composition which, thankfully, has never quite deserted me.

In early 1973 I was approached by the newly formed Accordi Piano Trio (Betty Sloan, Ursula Hess & Robert Wilson) to provide a new work for their Wigmore Hall debut that summer. I seem to remember they turned down the obvious suggestion of programming the already existing trio, partly no doubt because it had by this time already been taken up by the Tononi Piano Trio (Jurgen Hess – brother of Ursula – Olga Hegedus & Bernard Roberts). So a second trio came into being. It also had no number: it was simply a Trio in One Movement. It was only the arrival of a third many years later that necessitated adopting a numerical sequence.

Trios 1 & 2 have many things in common. Both are continuous explorations of variation form. Both show clear preference for open, airy textures with a predilection for lively, springy rhythms in all the faster sections. Equally, both love to brood in slow sections of high chiaroscuro contrast, rhythm in a state of suspense. Nevertheless, they are miles apart in expressive character. No.l has Robert Jones as its spinal column. It is his tonality (G minor/major), his melodic shapes and his playful mixing of duple and triple rhythms. By contrast, No.2 is of the modern world, lines full of chromaticism, tonality unsettled, harmonies stressed and full of tritones. Drama is a fundamental element in its motivation.

At an otherwise choral concert mounted by the London Chorale in January 1976, an instrumental contrast was introduced into what was styled “A Composer’s Portrait” in the shape of both of these two trios, played by the Tononi Trio. Looking back, I recognise this as the beginnings of an enduring and, for me, significant contact with Bernard Roberts, who, that same year, took up one of the only two piano sonatas then existing, and whose stimulus lies behind the other four which followed in the coming years, culminating in his composite recording of all six (1998/9).

By this time, Roberts’s long-admired qualities as chamber-musician had logically settled on his accomplished string-playing sons as a family trio, and it wasn’t long before my Trio No.l entered their repertoire. When giving the premiere of No.3 in 2001 they purposely drew attention to the 33-year span separating them by preceding it with the now familiar No.l.

The presence of all three Trios on this CD brings the evaluation process into close focus – including for myself, for whom the composition of piano trios has been an exciting but scattered experience.

Piano Trio No. l:

Methought this other night (1967) Diversions on an Air by Robert Jones

(premiere: London, Conway Hall, October 1967: Tagore Piano Trio)

The subtitle is the first line of a lute-song included in the second Book of Airs (1601) by Robert Jones. It continues: “…I saw a pretty sight that pleased me much, A fair and comely maid not squeamish or afraid to let me touch.” The author is unrecorded, as are the dates of Robert Jones’s life. His setting is delicately impish and unassuming. By way of celebrating a centenary that can never be, I devised a sequence of ‘diversions’ which tease at the melody before finally revealing it in full.

1.  Allegro di molto an exuberant romp round the tune with its mixing of major and minor and duple/triple rhythms.

2. Più tranquillo as veiled and mysterious in mood as it is in its fragmentary treatment of the Air.

3.  Allegro deciso an extended ‘double’ of Jones, freely derived from the Air, and often widely stretched out.

4.  Beit misurato an impish fugato.

5.  Liberamente e drammatico unnaturally slow fragments jostle with unnaturally fast ones, moody and uncertain.

6. Allegro di molto the original tempo, and close to the opening in other respects as well.

7. Più moderato a direct continuation and filled with a sense of expectation. With a slight drop from climax, the Air itself comes in sight, though tricked out with pennants and flurries acquired during the voyage..

Piano Trio No. 2: in one movement (Canonic Episodes) (1973)

(premiere: London, Wigmore Hall, 12th July 1973: Accordi Piano Trio)

Allegro scherzando a preludial scherzo propelled by the bracing excitement of a relay race of triple rhythms (9/8 & 3/4). A volley of trills, scales and tremolandos

thins to allow a bouncy tune to introduce a brisk scene of statement and repartee; a situation to be explored in the ensuing ‘canonic episodes’.

Largamente e sostenuto canons (at the 5th) between violin and cello in highly charged expressive lines, for the most part close-spaced and interweaving. Piano provides a subdued, flickering backdrop anchored by occasional nocturnal harmonies.

Vivace e leggiero canons (at the 4th) between all three participants, bright and playful and in a diverse ordering. At the centre, the piano draws apart in continuing lightweight imitations, while the strings converse more sweetly in a single longspun canon.

Andante maestoso the piano re-enters with a low register unison canon at contrasted speeds, both slow. Intensity mounts as the strings, also in wide-spaced unison, join to reach a central climax, followed by a tortuous chromatic descent coloured with anxious trills and tremolos. Senza misura an impassioned piano cadenza intervenes; a chordal tussle in four freely canonic phrases over a bass which thunders massively through the same notes spaced out below. The strings await their turn….

Poco piu mosso ….the violin leads a twisting canonic course with the cello far enough behind to heighten the sustained intensity of the climax before they both climb softly to a high unison pause.

Coda: (Tempo del principio) a mirror of the opening section, the playful component now more prominent, but soon submerged in the rash of trills and scales which launched it all in the first place.

PIANO TRIO No. 3 (2000)

(premiere: London, Wigmore Hall, 4th October 2001: Bernard Roberts Piano Trio)

Broad and sonorous

  1. Violent, but with controlled speed
  2. Lingering but intense – – – piu mosso

 In spring 2000, 1 followed an urge to write for the Roberts family trio – a tribute to them, and for me a return to a medium unvisited for 27 years. Early sketches seemed musically promising and well suited to strings and piano, but resisted all attempts to score them. Frustration was happily short-lived; only two players were wanted, not three; my one and only violin sonata

was the result. Then, that autumn, came the unexpected sequel: another piano trio. Unlike its predecessors, both single movements of variation type. Trio No.3 follows a compact three movement design, conventional except that the slow movement is last; unusual too perhaps in that the first movement reaches its only major climax in the final bars. Indeed it rushes at them defiantly, ending in mid-air. The next movement leaps in, inheriting the storm, deflecting the expression though not the motion into a more cheerful and scherzo-like mode. But defiance isn’t easily shaken off and this movement too rushes to its final bars in the course of its only climax. But this time at least it achieves a real ending.

The veiled opening of the last movement brings a welcome calm and cantabile, finally hesitating over hollow, enigmatic unisons. This paragraph is then elaborated in four variations, the last of which branches out into a gradually accelerating sequence of codas, the horizon shining brighter as the animation increases.

Six Bagatelles for Piano (1998)

(premiere: Luton Music Club:

9th October 2000)

  1. Swift and trancelike
  2. Serene but sad (after Selevan’s threnody)
  3. Restless and searching
  4. Languid but visionary
  5. Alert and mischievous
  6. Robust and determined

Expressly written for Bernard Roberts, and my most recent music for solo piano to date. Composition of these Bagatelles followed a succession of four substantial Sonatas (Nos 3 to 6) completed over a 12 year period (1983 – 1994), all of which Roberts premiered.

It was some time after completion of No.6, that I was bitten with the idea of epigrammatic miniatures. I’d long ago written descriptive pieces of this now distinctly unfashionable kind, though these miniatures are in no way descriptive beyond the balance of moods suggested by the individual titles.

The collective title obviously brings Beethoven to mind, but it would be a mistake to look for a hint of family descent in any but the broadest terms. Equally it could be argued – and I wouldn’t altogether deny – that these, by intention, very individual pieces, do in fact share a common source thematically; specially through an emphasis on repeated notes, conspicuous in them all, however different in context.

In this sense, the first Bagatelle generates its successors, although each is an obstinately self-contained miniature. No.2 is in the manner of a slow procession, deriving directly from a threnody which appears, quite briefly, in a programmatic ensemble work written in 1992 around legendary episodes in the life of an obscure Cornish Saint (The Selevan Story). No.4 alone inhabits a region of philosophic calm. The other four Bagatelles are all restless – No.3 even has this word in its title. In No.5, briefest of the set, this restlessness is deliberately mischievous. No.6 is biggest of the set in all senses, but not so much in bulk as in largeness of piano sonority.

Stephen Dodgson © August 2002

**Composers website

The BERNARD ROBERTS PIANO TRIO came into being more than 15 years ago. Their repertoire now ranges far beyond familiar masterpieces of the past to many recent works, including a number specially written for them. The trio’s debut on record celebrated Frank Bridge’s significant contribution to the piano trio repertoire (Black Box: BBM1 028), winning praise from the Gramophone magazine for the ‘utterly sympathetic, beautifully prepared performances from this fine family trio’. (September 2000)

Their association with Stephen Dodgson’s music came to prominence with their premiere of his Trio No.3 at the Wigmore Hall, London, in October 2001, an event which subsequently led to this recording.

BERNARD ROBERTS has long been acknowledged as one of Britain’s leading pianists. A profound interpreter of Beethoven, his recording of the 32 Piano Sonatas for Nimbus Records received the highest praise worldwide as did his more recent recordings of the Bach 48 Preludes & Fugues and the 6 Partitas. As well as a recitalist, he is also highly regarded as a teacher, both in the UK and abroad. He taught for over forty years at the Royal College of Music, London, and now teaches at Chetham’s School for gifted children in Manchester. He has often appeared as concerto soloist with leading British orchestras (the ‘Proms’ included), while his exceptional gift as a chamber musician has long been valued. He now enjoys playing the piano trio repertoire with his sons.

ANDREW ROBERTS studied with Carl Pini at the Royal College of Music in London, and later with Joyce Robbins in New York. A founder member of The Chamber Orchestra of Europe in 1981, he travelled widely, working under Claudio Abbado, Sandor Vegh and Gidon Kremer among others. In 1987 he joined the Auriol String Quartet, appointed Quartet in Residence at Aldeburgh, which also involved many concert tours in the UK and abroad. He has recently collaborated with the Beethoven String Trio of London and the Solomon Ensemble to perform and record, respectively, the two String Quartets by Buxton Orr, and the Piano Quintet by Enesco. Present activities include performance on period instruments as a member of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightment.

NICHOLAS ROBERTS was born in London and studied at the Royal College of Music with Joan Dickson and Amaryllis Fleming. After many years performing with the English Chamber Orchestra and other leading chamber ensembles, Nicholas joined the Coull String Quartet, resident at the University of Warwick, and is now recording and performing with them throughout the UK, Europe and the USA.

Review: I – Music Web International

After reviewing the piano music of Stephen Dodgson over the past few months, here we have the continuation of the Claudio series with Bernard Roberts. Whatever, the future looks bright for lovers of Dodgson’s music, with these regular releases strengthening his profile in the catalogues.

The Claudio disc was originally released in 2003 and presents the three piano trios performed by the Bernard Roberts Piano Trio, the family ensemble in which the father was joined by his two sons, Andrew and Nicholas. We also get the Bagatelles for Piano as a nice addition to the program. In his notes for the disc, Stephen Dodgson explains that he only assigned numbers to his trios in 2000 after he had composed the Third, the first two having a subtitle to distinguish them. The first two are linked in the way that they are both in a single movement made up of linked sections in variation form – in both cases seven variations. Composed six years apart, these are both striking works and approach the theme quite differently. The First Piano Trio with the title Divisions on an Air by Robert Jones, an English lutenist and composer who along with Thomas Campion, was the most prolific composer of English lute songs; information about Jones is a bit sketchy with even his dates being unknown, but thought to be around 1577 to around 1617. Dodgson takes lines from one of Jones’s songs from his second book of 1601 and weaves his music around the line “Methought this other Night I saw a pretty sight that pleased me much, A fair and comely maid not squeamish or afraid to let me touch”. Dodgson is clever in the way that he uses the tune, he gives glimpses of the tune in each of the first six Diversions, but it is only in the final one that we get the tune in full, with the sparkling rippling piano announcing the final variation before the strings enter with the tune; Dodgson works around the tune with the last section being a mini set of variations in which each of the instruments has the tune at one point, with the others working around it.

The Piano Trio No. 2 was composed six years later and premiered by the Accordi Piano Trio who wanted a new work for their Wigmore Hall debut. The link between this and No. 1 is mainly in the use of variation form; the two trios are quite different in character, with the Second Trio being more strident, darker and more modern in approach, with a detailed use of chromaticism and shifting tonality. The first section acts as a kind of prelude, in which the thematic material, which will be used throughout, is announced; this is followed by a much slower section that contains some fine solo writing. The work then shifts and turns through tempo shifts and some more solo canonic writing before arriving at the cyclical Coda final section which returns to the music of the opening section, whilst giving more prominence to the “playful component” of the opening theme. This work is tonal throughout, although the boundaries are stretched at times, offering the listener much to enjoy.

Bernard Roberts had had a long relationship with the music of Stephen Dodgson, both as a solo pianist and chamber musician, and in his notes, Dodgson describes an “urge to write for the Roberts family trio”. The result was the Piano Trio No. 3 of 2000, some twenty-seven years after he had composed the Piano Trio in one movement, which here became his Trio No. 2. This is a more conventional work in its outlook, with its three movements pointing towards the classical model of the trio; however, there is nothing classical about this trio with its two slow movements bookending the faster central movement. This is my favourite work on the disc – I particularly like the way that the piano seems to be pitted against the strings in the first movement which is marked Broad & sonorous, and does not seem to reach its climax until the final bars. This is followed by a movement marked Violent, but with controlled speed; despite this there is nothing ‘violent’ about this music. Rather, this movement acts as the works scherzo and has some nice developmental sections; bold and brighter music is presented here, which rushes headlong to the movement’s conclusion. The final movement, Lingering but intense – a più mosso, is a beautifully languid and tranquil movement with the opening violin line underpinning the music as it is developed through four variations that gradually increase in pace without getting too fast: wonderful!

The following Six Bagatelles for Piano date from 1998 and were also specifically composed for Bernard Roberts, being premiered five days after the Piano Trio No. 3 in October 2000 and making a fitting addition to Roberts’s survey of the first six sonatas. The Bagatelles are diverse short pieces, which share the manner in which they all contain passages of repeated notes; however, although the Second seems to be drawn out of the First Bagatelle, these are quite individual pieces and could easily be listened to separately.

An excellent disc in which the three piano trios are the stars, the performance of these works by the Bernard Roberts Piano Trio is all that you could wish for, with a strong sense of ensemble playing throughout leading to wonderful performances. In the Bagatelles, Bernard Roberts continues where he left off in his recordings of the piano sonatas, with strong performances of these six short pieces. Stuart Sillitoe 

Review: II – Gramophone

The Bernard Roberts Piano Trio repertoire  ranges far beyond familiar masterpieces of the past to many recent works, including a number specially written for them. The trio’s debut on record celebrated Frank Bridge’s significant contribution to the piano trio repertoire, winning praise from the Gramophone magazine for the ‘utterly sympathetic, beautifully prepared performances from thos fine family trio’.
(September 2000).