With the composer in the Recording Studio-inspiration from Jeremy Dale Roberts

Posted on July 3rd, 2014 by

Jeremy Dale Roberts – Capriccio  (1965) Posted August 2017

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin, Roderick Chadwick – Piano
Musical supervision – Jeremy Dale Roberts
Engineer-Jonathan Haskell

Jeremy Dale Roberts listens. Cambridge 2015 Photo Malene Skaerved

This is one of the last collaborations that I was able to have with Jeremy, discussing the edits and shape of this recording. The final disc, which was recorded under his supervision and edited in collaboration with him, also includes the spectacular ‘Tombeau’ for piano, and Jeremy’s extraordinary String Quintet, which we premiered in 2013 – one of greatest British chamber works.

Working with Jeremy Dale Roberts on his Capriccio  (1965) in the recording studio Posted 3 July 2014

I find the that recording studio is one of the most creative places to explore the music that I love in depth, and not under pressure. This week’s work with Jeremy Dale Roberts, one of great voices, is a good place to explore that process. So I will go through some the aspects of recording a piece like this.

We recorded in the lovely church of St Michael Highgate, which is blessed with a wonderful acoustic and a very subtle, colourful Steinway. This is not the first recording we’ve made there with my team-recently, we have recorded chamber orchestral discs of Elliott Schwartz and Mihailo Trandafilovski’s violin/piano music in this beautiful church. I find that a piece of great architecture is nothing but helpful in recording and this church has the added cachet, the Samuel Taylor Coleridge is buried in the nave.

I have worked with the engineer Jonathan Haskell for a decade, so we have a very good idea what we are looking for sound wise. There’s some to-ing and fro-ing with the microphone positions, as there’s a very important discussion to be had, with piano/violin music, as to how much the two instruments ’emerge’ from one another, or can dive into each other’s textures. The repertoire includes many works which include passages which not only demand great clarity, but also when one instrument should literally ‘drown’ itself in the other. The cascades of scales in the fast sections of Barok’s 2nd Sonata are an example of this, whereas the scales at the end of’ Prokofiev’s 1st Sonata  demand the complete opposite. After some time setting levels, discussing colour (and having the composer in the room is such a boon at such moments), we decided to do a complete playthrough of this intricate piece. The main reason for this, is that although we know it in detail, having a sense of the dramatic arch means that we won’t lose our way with the detailed work.

Inspired friends and collaborators. Recording Jeremy Dale Roberts and Roderick Chadwick today!

Inspired friends and collaborators. Recording Jeremy Dale Roberts and Roderick Chadwick today!

Here’s that first playover. We were very happy with as the first take of the day, so it set us up well for the discussion with Jeremy. We have been discussing and working on this piece with the composer for some months-not just in public performances, but in a SOUNDBOX session at the Royal Academy of Music a month ago. It’s also worth saying that I have collborated with Jeremy since 2004. I have recorded his epic 45 minute string trio,  Croquis with the Kreutzers (for NMC) along with a set of violin/piano pieces, written for me, Tristia. Last year, after a long wait, we premiered Jeremy’s superb String Quintet with the Kreutzer Quartet and Canadian Cellist Bridget MacRae. This performance was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Last month, we performed the revision of this work at Kettles Yard, as part of Jeremy’s 80th Birthday celebrations. To find out more about the dialogue which I have been enjoying with the composer concerning Capriccio  go to:http://www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2014/04/jeremy-dale-roberts-capriccio-live/

The first page of my performing score of 'Capriccio'-layers of technical work, conversations with the composer, and (in blue) observations of the pioneering performance by my teacher, Ralph Holmes.

The first page of my performing score of ‘Capriccio’-layers of technical work, conversations with the composer, and (in blue) observations of the pioneering performance by my teacher, Ralph Holmes.

So here’s the complete playthrough. One of the advantages of recording, is that page turns are less of a problem-and that’s a big challenge when playing this big movement in one chunk! So there’s flapping around here!

Jeremy Dale Roberts-Capriccio (1st Take-playthrough)

So then the real work began. We decided to break the piece up into 7 sections-which line up, more or less with the ‘scenes’ which make it up. We play each segment 3-5 times, mostly 4, and each time, Jeremy moulded what we did more and more. We prefer to have the composer in the room with us, so there’s no sense of ‘them and us’ which can emerged with people behind glass. It can get very combative, very fast, so this is the friendly, more creative way. It just feels more like a workshop, than a nail-biting experience.

Section 1 ‘Molto Flessibile’

The first segment sets up the contrary pull which the music explores, forward and back.There’s a wonderful contradiction, which he begins to explore more and more as we talk and play, that what he refers to the as the ‘calm, lingering’ material, has to be played, he insists with great exactitude of rhythm and dynamic, the faster, more capricious material, with more freedom. This is typical of the internal dynamics of his music-material which he refers to has ‘elusive, diffident’ needs to be approached with great rigour!

We move on to the first dramatic section. Jeremy inspires us by talking about the importance of the slow chorales which underpin this section. Time runs at a number of different speeds in his music, and everything has to be clear. He often helps me finding the shape for gestures and phrases, by referring to music, to the emotion, ‘welling up’-this really helps to find the bow stroke and colour in music this expressively and agogically, layered.

Section 2 ‘Piu Mosso’ 

Each section is played with an overhang of various lengths into its neighbours. Sometimes, we extend these projecting ledges a lot, as you can’t always tell whether the best way in an out of a section will be until editing. The third section that we record explores the landscape of the opening. It’s very much a place-Jeremy demands an ‘abyss of pedal’ at one point, which for Messiaen fanatics like us, opens a range of possibilities. Music like this, hovers on the edge of improvisation, but improvisation towards exactitude. Dale Roberts is passionate about the shape and trajectory of silences, and this section introduces a series of rhetorical pauses, marked ‘,‘ and ‘,,‘ which feel like an actor silencing the audience, mid soliloquy, with a finger on the lips. We start a series of sub-conversations which continue through the recording about composers who love ‘suspended’ tempos, and Prokofiev looms large in the conversation (though with music like this, Szymanovski, who like Prokofiev, collaborated with the violinist, Paul Kochanski, is never far from mind)

Section 3‘Tempo 1’ 

The next section we record is the most extreme in the piece, ranging from music which hovers on the edge of silence, through to an explosion of brilliance from the piano, which serves notice the storm which is about to break. Jeremy takes enormous care in discussing the various gradients, the ebb and flow of this music on various scales. There’s a lot of semi-serious mutual ribbing about the ‘Debussy-Alban Berg- trick of creating enormous refinements of ‘slowings down’ by marking ‘rit poco a poco….’ over a passage which moves from quavers, to quintuplet quavers, to semiquavers,gently speeding up!

Section 4 Poco piu mosso-Lento Molto-Allegro Molto’

The next section is without doubt, the most challenging, and fascinatingly, Jeremy is most concerned still with the shaping of long and short term gradients, looking for extremely vocal glissandi in the mezzo-piano octave writing in the violin part, hunting the long slow melody which stalks within all the ferocious complexity of this music. He doesn’t use the word, but what he is hunting for, and elicits, is clarity

Section 5 ‘Lento’

The last three minutes of this piece is, truly, heartbreaking. Jeremy challenged me to really draw out the portamenti. This is not something that I have any resistance to, but I know that he does not ask for it lightly; he demands a complex and subtle rhetoric-his approach to the voice  is one of poetry, song, and prose. The real miracle of this final take, is the halo of tremolo Roderick creates-echoes of an equally precious piece, which shares so much with this-the Schubert Fantasie.

And here’s the ‘bolt-up’ as we call it, of the 5 segments. This is only the beginning of the process-the thing is as elegantly put together a Frankenstein’s monster. But it is the template from which we will build the edit map, a very precise plan of how material goes together, which then gets torn into little pieces as soon as the real editing begins! But the crucial thing, is that the discussions and ideas from the day, and from the preparation leading up to the public performances, continue to bear on the process, right up to the moment that it is ready for mastering. I think it’s fair to say, that we performers are incredibly grateful to Glenn Gould, who insisted that we should take a very creative part in this process, that for the modern artist, caring about the minutiae of every aspect of recording and production, is an essential part of the interpreters’ work. I am grateful to him every day. Thanks Glenn. I mean it!

Jeremy Dale Roberts-‘Capriccio’ ‘Bolt-up’ of Studio recording-1st July 2014

Jeremy Dale Roberts-‘Capriccio’ (Live)

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin Roderick Chadwick-Piano

Kettles Yard 27 4 14 

With Jeremy Dale Roberts, discussing his 'Capriccio' Kettles Yard 27 April 2014

With Jeremy Dale Roberts, discussing his ‘Capriccio’ Kettles Yard 27 April 2014

My collaboration with Jeremy Dale Roberts is one of the joys of my creative life. This is a the latest stage, working with him on his wonderful 1965 ‘Capriccio’.

With Pianist Roderick Chadwick27 4 14 and Composer Jeremy Dale Roberts. Kettles Yard

With Pianist Roderick Chadwick27 4 14 and Composer Jeremy Dale Roberts. Kettles Yard

Linked to this: A lesson with Ralph Holmes

The great British violinist, Ralph Holmes, died 30 years ago this year. I studied with him from the age of 12, and my last lesson with him was a few months before we lost him. I was 17,  and just about to go to the Royal Academy as a ‘grown up’. To the Academy’s irritation (understandable, I suppose), I refused to have a teacher for the first few months. I had the sense that, whilst I had been having these astonishing lessons for years, I had not had the good sense to really listen, to take on board what was being said to me. So I spend the time going back over the works that I had studied with Ralph, and some that I had not . Jeanette Holmes gave me access to his marked materials, and I studied some new works with him, such as the Hamilton Harty concerto, in those months. It was years before I met a teacher who would have such an impact. If I am truthful, it was not until I went to Louis Krasner that I found what I remembered from this extraordinary musician and friend.

The opening of Jeremy Dale Roberts' 'Capriccio'. with my notations of today's work with the Holmes performance

The opening of Jeremy Dale Roberts’ ‘Capriccio’. with my notations of today’s work with the Holmes performance

However, Jeremy Dale Roberts has enabled me to go back to that excitement and inspiration. I am preparing Jeremy’s ‘Capriccio’ for a concert at Kettles Yard on the 27th of this month (with Roderick Chadwick). This piece was written for Yfrah Neamann. However, Jeremy had, many times, whispered to me that the recording which Holmes made of it was  extraordinary. Jeremy and I have never really talked about this violinist, but it has always been clear to me that he made a profound impact on this great composer. Today, Jeremy sent me Holmes’ recording, with the pianist Ronald Lumsden The card which Jeremy sent with the recording refers to Ralph:

‘…like the Young Apollo or one of Blake’s Angels’

I listened and realised that this was a great opportunity for me, as part of the work on Jeremy’s piece, to have a lesson. I spend a lot of time doing this with other players who are lost to me, David, Joachim, Bull. So really, this is more logical. So I have just spent a couple of hours, violin in hand, listening, playing and thinking. It has been to put it mildly, a revelation. Here it is:

Jeremy Dale Roberts-‘Capriccio’ 1965 Ralph Holmes (Stradivari 1734), Ronald Lumsden-Piano

Specific observations, which formed the meat of today’s lesson:

Opening: Echoes of Stravinsky’s ‘Duo Concertant’. Incorporation of Left hand pizzicato into the tremolo-as one colour.  Immediate shaping of the passage work, responding to Roberts’ ‘flessibile’, as a living organism. No display! Note that, Peter.  The capricious nature is there, constantly, in the balance of rubato forward and backwards, the use of silence. Holmes harmonics are always ‘open’ in sound, and he allows humanity in the way material falls silent, runs out of breath/bow. I was reminded, in the ascending passage at 22″ of him teaching me the Beethoven Concerto, his love of finding ways in high passage work, of making the fingers push each other out of the way, avoiding merely digital playing.

44″‘: This is marked ‘Loure’. and initially, I was not sure of what JDR wanted. Holmes plays the incarnations of this figure, here, at 2’08” (Augmented), 3’45”, and the end, dreaming. Each one is a development of the previous (there’s an effortless teleological view in the playing). The first manifestations are hesitando, separated, then, gradually, more joined, eventually, by the end, glowing.

46″: The singing passagework. This is birdsong, not virtuosity, and the various characters always shine through, like the Szymanowski-like emphasis of the appogiature, which are wonderful. As thsi section builds, I love the various weightings of vibrato, and the heft which Holmes allows into the bow arm, but never violence. The long melody, beginning on the G string, which rises and falls to 2’14”, is a testament to right hand eloquence, and Holmes’ vibrato response to Roberts’ ‘con fervore’. He kept so much of the finger pad in contact with the string, which released this unmistakably human sound. At this point in the piece, Holmes is restraining, even repressing, ‘portamenti’. There’s a pay-off for this, later.

4’40: Something amazing. Holmes releases the intimacy of the ‘Poco meno mosso’ passage which he has just played, and the increasingly human quiver in the vibrato, (Eliot’s ‘circulation of the lymph’?), with a wonderful ‘glissando armoniques’ (as Jolivet named it in ‘Pour que l’Image Devienne Symbole’). This sets up the high G flageolet, with the sublests pre-echo of natural harmoniques glinting on the way up.

8’16”: Here’s the reward for all the restraint which the performers have shown up to now. Jeremy has marked ‘declamado’ and Ralph releases, at this unmistakable climax, a wonderful range of downwards ‘portamenti’. And they remain, to the end of the piece. Now that the voice has been released, it can sing free, unfettered.

Ralph Holmes in 1962, in his twenties, and a sculpture made that year by the inventor/sculptor Lewen Tugwell

Ralph Holmes in 1962, in his twenties, and a sculpture made that year by the inventor/sculptor Lewen Tugwell

And here are some general things, as they came to me. They are mainly, admonishments to myself: reminders to avoid falling into bad habits.

PSS on RH 5 4 14

-Ralph’s ‘passage work’ is never merely brilliant, superficial, but always human. Everything is vocal.

-Singing, always human, always fallible.

-Ralph always told me to find as much of my expression as possible in the Right Hand, not just the left. This recording is an object lesson in that.

-This is a rhetoric which makes amazing use of emphasis, of caesurae, of weight

-Ralph’s eloquence is so much rooted in an astonishing command of the open, warm parts of the alphabet, in vowels. He never makes the mistake, so common in string playing today, of going for the easy effect by overuse of splashy consonants

-This playing seems to look for the reason behind every colour, timbre and gesture, and, kindly, without intrusion, bring that to the fore

-Portamenti are relatively rare, but when used, released, if you like, have real power

-The E string sound is always warm, covered even. How does he do it?

 Technical Notes

Holmes’ playing, technically, was a fascinating synthesis of European and American approaches. As a young man, he studied under David Martin, which put him firmly in the line of influence from Rowsby Woof. However, there was a major change in his approach, in his twenties, which resulted from a brief period of study with Ivan Galamian in New York. Holmes should never be descrined as a Galamian disciple; indeed, from the very first moments that I met him as a 12 year old, he was open with me about the limitations of Galamian’s school, from a musical point of view. However, after his return from study in the US, he found a way, uniquely his own, to incorporate Galamian’s approach to the right hand into his own technique, freeing it up. I do remember that he was round to supper at my parents house in April 1981, and was very clear about the demarcation between his violinistic approach and the Galamian players. This stuck in my memory (I was 14 at the time) because next morning Galamian’s death was announced. The photo of him playing above, shows his right hand in the pre-Galamian state. When I studied him, he demonstrated and used a much more energised, ‘spread’ approach to the hand.

Holmes' right hand as I knew it. The Violin is the Habeneck Strad, and the bow, by Stephen Bristow-Ralph bought two spectacular examples after I bought my first on by this maker, when I was 13

Holmes’ right hand as I knew it. The Violin is the Habeneck Strad, and the bow, by Stephen Bristow-Ralph bought two spectacular examples after I bought my first on by this maker, when I was 13

An important factor in the lyrical approach that can be heard here, was Holmes’ ‘open hand’ approach to fingering. Put simply, he sought to keep the left hand in ‘extended’, reaching configuration as much as possible, in the quest for the most singing line. I was lucky enough to study a number of works which enabled me to see him explain this in great detail. These include the Prokofiev ‘Five Melodies’, the Britten ‘Lullaby’, and the Chausson Poème. It’s worth mentioning that a result of this was (and I confess that we disagreed about this a lot in lessons) that he always sought to avoid the 4th finger for expressive high points. I was not the most compliant teenager, and made now secret of the fact that I sensed that my hand was developing a different way; which it did!

First result

On stage with Roderick Chadwick and Michael Finnissy. Bergen Festival 2013

On stage with Roderick Chadwick and Michael Finnissy. Bergen Festival 2013

One of our rehearsals for Capriccio. .24 4 14 London

Peter Sheppard Skaerved-Violin, Roderick Chadwick-Piano