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Jeremy Dale ROBERTS (1934–2017)
Chamber and Instrumental Music
Capriccio for violin and piano (1965) [11:56]
Tombeau for solo piano (1966–69) [29:48]
String Quintet (2012, rev. 2014) [36:38]
Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin)
Roderick Chadwick (piano)
Bridget MacRae (cello)
Kreutzer Quartet
rec. 2014/17, St Michael's Highgate, London.
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0487 [78:24]

Jeremy Dale Roberts was born in Gloucestershire and studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music with William Alwyn and Priaulx Rainier. After this he undertook a degree in music at the University of Durham. He was married to Paulette Zwahlen whom he met at Ashmansworth, the home of the Finzis. A strong supporter of Finzi's music, he worked for the Finzi Trust creating authoritative performing editions; not that his music as represented here bears any resemblance to Finzi's. His appreciation of the arts, literature, gardening and travelling was pursued in parallel with his creative work and an immersion in the academic world. He was a teacher at Morley College, the Royal College of Music (1966-98, latterly as Head of Composition) and was Visiting Professor of Composition at the University of Iowa (1999-2000, 2004).

His compositions - on the showing of this CD not all retrospective in idiom or melodic - have been performed worldwide. They include the Cello Concerto Deathwatch, written for Rohan de Saram, Tombeau for Stephen Kovacevich; Croquis for string trio, written for members of the Arditti Quartet (broadcast premiere September 1982 as a BBC commission: Irvine Arditti (violin), Levine Andrade (viola), Rohan De Saram (cello)); In the Same Space, nine poems of Constantin Cavafy, written for Stephen Varcoe; Lines of Life, lyric episodes for ensemble, written for Lontano; Casidas y Sonetos - del amor oscuro for solo guitar, written for Charles Ramirez; Hamadryad for alto flute, viola and guitar; Stelae, a sequence of pieces for gamelan; Nightpiece for soprano and two bass viols, commissioned by Evelyn Tubb and many pieces for his own instrument most notably Oggetti – omaggio à Morandi. 18 June 1974 Add to these, Eight Canzonets premiered by the BBC Singers/John Poole. Broadcasts of his music have not been numerous but, such as they were, they fell in the 1970s and 1980s. I would mention that in November 1973 his Sinfonia da Caccia was played by the still lamented Academy of the BBC conducted by Norman Del Mar. The following year it was played by the same musicians as part of the Stroud Festival.

The music is, in the case of the Capriccio, rather fey and operates at the quiet extremes. Capricious flurries of notes and piano whirlpools stir the darkness. The piece was played in April 1973 by Manoug Parikian and Malcolm Binns. Later it was taken up by Ralph Holmes and Ronald Lumsden in a rare all-JDR radio talk as part of the "Composer's Portrait" series in 1981. In that programme he also introduced performances of Tombeau, Part 2 (1969) played by Ronald Lumsden (piano) and the Cello Concerto (Deathwatch) (1978) played by Christopher Van Kampen (cello) and the London Sinfonietta conducted by Lionel Friend. The Concerto was played again this time by Rohan De Saram (cello), BBCSO conducted by Richard Pittman on 4 April 1982.

The Tombeau for solo piano, a very substantial piece is in a single 30-minute span. It was originally played by Stephen Kovacevich. Roderick Chadwick takes on this prepossessing piece complete with its clashing clangourous chords, bell-tower collisions and occasionally jazzy dissonances. It's a more bleak and gloomy piece than the Capriccio but shares its obsession with probing the extremes of the dynamic range. A work difficult to come to terms with, it speaks of 1960s self-communing and thrawn contrasts. Although I warm to its dynamic extremes and swirling whispered fantasy it's a work that I for now resist. This score does not beckon me back but then perhaps it is not supposed to.
 
The String Quintet is heard here in four tracks: I. The Caller on the Shore –; Moments of Being —; Dance on the Shore; II. The Meeting. The whole structure runs to almost 37 minutes. It's given a performance of superior intense accomplishment at technical and emotional levels. One or two moments of "aching, pastoral lyricism" aside, it shares with the Capriccio a refusal to compromise and look back. It revels in dynamic contrast, and flittering and chittering aural undergrowth offset by some momentary nostalgia in The Meeting. There's a shade of Bartók and of his gypsy dances around pungent bonfires in the earlier movements. Not an easy listen nor, I suspect, was it ever intended to be.

Jeremy Dale Roberts died in 2017 (obituary) but was able to supervise these recordings which have produced a realistic sound with plenty of impact. The CD stands as a living memorial and the content, quality of the performances and documentation holds up very well against that goal. I am very ready to belief that the performers worked closely with the composer over a period of years and that "he was involved with every aspect of these recordings, from initial rehearsals up to the final edits." The encyclopaedic notes are by Martin Anderson, Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Roderick Chadwick. I would like to think that there is room and inclination for a further CD at some point and it should include the Cello Concerto and the Sinfonia da Caccia. That would be most welcome.

Rob Barnett

 

 




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