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Jeremy Dale Roberts – Croquis

Tristia & Croquis

NMC D151

Jeremy Dale Roberts’s music still remains largely unperformed; a great shame as this CD demonstrates. His music is concise, extremely expressive, yet very economic in its use of devices and technical means. It has an unmistakable finesse, and a strikingly technical solidity that is always within a progressive scope.

This disc further demonstrates Roberts’s technical perfection of miniature forms used to create large-scale musical narratives. Similarly to Webern’s and Kurtag’s music, each small section / piece always feels it has just the right duration, just what is necessary; Roberts still says a lot with very few notes. Silence is often used to frame each passage or sound, another similarity to Kurtag and Webern.

Tristia for Violin and Piano is the most recent (2006 - 2007). Consisting of 6 movements, it lasts for about 20 minutes, almost half of which is covered by the last movement. Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Aaron Shorr premiered the work last year at the Wilton’s Music Hall. This duo has been performing together for many years and has premiered several new works. This solid partnership between the two artists is both crucial and evident in this work that oscillates between independent and more unified parts, gestures and sound profiles.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved is responsible for the revival and coming into prominence not only of composers who are underperformed but also, as in the case of the first performance of this work, underutilized venues. Wilton’s Music Hall has re-established itself as a concert venue for new music, much of the credit is due to the Kreutzer Quartet who not only masterminded new repertoire for this space but has also created an audience for this hall as well.

Similarly, the recording of Trista is not only historically important as a first recording, but will also serve as a study piece for future recordings because of the partnership between the composer and these two performers. Trista is a great example of lyrical music written within a non-tonal idiom, a model of truly contemporary and appealing music - minus all the new music clichés.

It has just the right proportions between tension and release, between emotion and intellect. Peter Sheppard Skaerved and Aaron Shorr communicate these intentions magnificently, demonstrating how compact their partnership truly is. Balance is always excellent, and the frequent shifts of colour and activity are always impeccable, not to mention that all the complex passages sound wonderfully effortless and transparent in their hands.

The second and more substantial work, the string trio Croquis (1976 -1980) lasts almost an hour. Peter Sheppard Skaerved is joined by two other members of the Kreutzer Quartet, Violist Morgan Goff and Cellist Neil Heyde. Composed for the Arditti Quartet, it is one of the most substantial contributions to the string trio genre. Like many works composed for this phenomenal and iconic group, it is not short of virtuosity, intensity and complexity, yet it has a distinct personal voice.

Croquis was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to serve as “extracts” between programs across a whole evening of broadcasting. The resulting work was true to the commission’s intention, of course, and as such, it posed a serious alternative to much music of that time that was usually developed with a long single time span in mind, characterized by a unified stylistic profile.

Croquis means sketch, and the whole composition is structured in three collections, Cahiers, that can be performed in several ways. One possibility, of course, is to perform all of them together, like the presentation on this recording, but performers (as in the intention of the commission itself) can also choose to perform only some of these pieces or to fuse a performance of these Cahiers with other music too. In the composer’s vision, these short pieces could be regarded as dishes within a meze menu where one can have the menu completely or parts of it.

On hearing this work in its entirety, I can say that the whole collection works remarkably well together, and I would urge performances of this work in its entirety. In fact, had I not known the duration, I would not have guessed that this was such a long work, as it certainly feels much shorter. That is possibly because of the continuous dialectic of opposites, between sudden changes of black and white, tension and release, scratchy dissonances and ethereal consonant soundscapes and the composer’s mastery of knowing just exactly when to change direction to keep our interest throughout.

The three musicians of the Kreutzer Quartet do a superb job in communicating this work to us in a clear, meaningful and, most importantly, honest way. Their attention to every sound nuance, their ability to perfect every gesture, their sense of structural and formal as well as dynamic balance really brings to life this music in the most animated way. The manner in which the contrasting sections unfold is executed with great vision, and the musical intention is always superbly articulated. Their playing also shows the work’s larger architectural profile through precisely controlling the gestural development of each sound, a quality that is rare and true of great musicians.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Aaron Shorr and the Kreutzers are a perfect match for this music and prove yet once more that they truly are amongst the leading exponents of new music worldwide.

Evis Sammoutis