Stephen Dodgson: Canticle of the Sun

Stephen Dodgson was an important British composer. He enjoyed considerable success after the Second World War. Dodgon wrote a variety of classical music, from orchestral works to solo songs. This release focuses on his choral music. 

When I read that Gerald Finzi highly regarded Dodgon’s music, I knew I had to give this album a listen. 

The works on this release sound deceptively conventional. Dodgon’s music is tonal. Furthermore, he writes idiomatically for the human voice. Melodies are constrained to relatively easy-to-sing intervals. There’s some chromaticism, but it’s more a spice than a main ingredient. 

Conventional four-part 20th Century choral writing — but not quite. Careful listening reveals the rather complex harmonies that Dodgson uses. These harmonies provide subtle shading to the text. And while the melodies may be easy to sing, fitting together these vocal lines isn’t.

Dodgson was a British composer. But these works fall outside the British choral tradition — another deceptive characteristic. We don’t get the high boy’s choir sound. Or even the equivalent vocal lines for sopranos. Rather all four voices contribute equally to the sound.

A few of the selections have religious texts. But in some, like “Tis Almost One,” the religious references are oblique rather than direct. The rest of the album is strictly secular. And that’s another subtle difference. This is music for the concert hall than the cathedral. 

Sonoro is a superb vocal ensemble. They hit every note exactly on the pitch singing a capella. And they create a wonderful ensemble sound in the process. And while they have a smooth blend, Sonoro’s articulation is clear and accurate. It’s easy to follow the texts without having to follow along with the booklet.

Well-crafted music sung by a top-notch ensemble. If you’re a fan of choral music, this belongs in your collection. 

Stephen Dodgson: Canticle of the Sun
Sonoro; Neil Ferris, conductor
Katherine Bicknell, flute; Michael Higgins, organ
SOMM Recordings SOMMCD -0686

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