On record – Peter Dickinson: Chamber & Instrumental Music (Toccata Classics)

Peter Dickinson
Violin Sonata (1961)
Air for solo violin (1959)
Metamorphosis for solo violin (1955, rev 1971)
String Quartet no. 1 (1958)
Fantasia for solo violin (1959)
Lullaby for violin and piano (1967)
String Quartet No. 2 (1976)
Quintet Melody for solo violin (1956)
Tranquillo for violin and piano (1986, rev. 2018)

*Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin); **Roderick Chadwick (piano); ***Kreutzer Quartet [Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski (violins), Clifton Harrison (viola), Neil Heyde (cello)]

Toccata Classics TOCC0538 [71’26”]

Producer Peter Sheppard Skaerved
Engineer Jonathan Haskell

Recorded 27 July & 29 November 2017, 16 January & 26 March 2019

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics turns its attention to Peter Dickinson (b.1934), whose impeccably crafted and stylistically wide-ranging music has enhanced British music over almost seven decades – not least these chamber and instrumental works that are all recorded here for the first time.

What’s the music like?

Dickinson might consider the Violin Sonata to be among his more challenging works, but its serial technique is subtly embedded into outer Fast movements whose rhythmic tensility has an engagingly Bartókian impetus, while the central Slow movement alludes to Greensleeves near the start of its spare yet eloquent and at times impassioned course. At the other end of the scale, Lullaby is one of several warmly attractive and immediately accessible pieces derived from the abandoned opera The Unicorns, while Tranquillo is a recasting of part of the central section from the Violin Concerto (recorded on Heritage HTGCD276 along with concertos for organ and piano) Dickinson wrote as an In memoriam to Ralph Holmes – with whom he often gave recitals, not least of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata which makes a belated appearance here.

Dickinson’s output for solo violin is hardly less significant – whether with the folk-inflected plaintiveness of Air or the deftly accruing velocity of Metamorphosis (that both were initially conceived for flute makes this idiomatic new guise the more striking). More ambitious is the Fantasia with its grandly (but never wantonly) rhetorical gestures and vaunting passagework that aptly evokes the skyline of New York – in which city the composer studied during 1958-61, a time of considerable social and cultural upheaval. No less affecting despite (or perhaps because of?) its brevity, Quintet Melody is all that has survived from a quintet written when a Cambridge undergraduate. Dickinson has composed music for solo instruments throughout his composing career, of which those featured here constitute some of the most appealing.

Surprising that Dickinson’s string quartets have only now received their first recordings. The First Quartet opens with an intensively argued Allegro whose energy is the more palpable for its formal concentration, then the haunting ‘night music’ overtones of the central Lento – not least its quietly ecstatic solos and trenchant rhythmic ostinatos – carry over to a final Allegro whose ‘misterioso’ marking denotes its speculative progress to an eruptive climax and highly equivocal close. Unfolding as an eventful and often ingenious single movement, the Second Quartet evokes Ives in the way strings wend their leisurely yet methodical way to a rendition of the ‘rag’ that piano – heard on tape – has been sounding fragmentarily all the while. That this arrival is anything but decisive only makes the process of getting there more intriguing.

Does it all work?

It does, not least as Dickinson is a master of ‘less is more’. The longest of these pieces is little over 15 minutes in length, but this does not detract from the variety of incident and expression that the composer has invested into their content – not to mention their technical challenges.

Is it recommended?

It is, given the all-round excellence of the performances and the ideal ambience in which they have been recorded. A fluent author, Dickinson’s own observations on each piece are nothing if not apposite, and it is to be hoped that a follow-up disc might yet emerge from this source.



You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.


You can read about Peter Dickinson at his website

On record: Jeremy Dale Roberts – Chamber and Instrumental Music (Toccata Classics)












Peter Sheppard Skaerved (violin), Roderick Chadwick (piano) Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skaerved & Mihailo Trandafilovski (violins), Morgan Goff (viola),  Neil Heyde (cello) with Bridget MacRae (cello)

Jeremy Dale Roberts
Capriccio for violin and piano (1965)
Tombeau for piano (1966-69)
String Quintet (2012/14)

Toccata Classics TOCC0487 [78’24’’]
Producer Peter Sheppard Skaerved
Engineer Jonathan Haskell
Recorded 17-18 December 2014 at St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead (String Quintet), 3 July 2014 (Capriccio) and 22 February 2017 (Tombeau) at St Michael’s, Highgate, London

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics further sets the pace by releasing this disc of music by Jeremy Dale Roberts (1934-2017), whose distinguished academic career (for over three decades at Royal College of Music, latterly as Head of Composition) likely obscured his achievements as a composer.

What’s the music like?

Over more than half a century, Dale Roberts created a catalogue whose diversity is out of all proportion to its modesty (some 40 works). The present disc is the third devoted to his music, following releases on the NMC and Lorelt labels; the latter also featuring Capriccio for violin and piano. This 12-minute piece is dedicated to Howard Ferguson, whose technical finesse it emulates for all that its stylistic profile is appreciably wider – evoking Stravinsky and Bartók as it builds to an assaultive climax before subsiding into the subdued while sombre postlude.

As Roderick Chadwick infers in his booklet note, Tombeau was for Dale Roberts his defining work in terms both of encapsulating where his music had reached at that point and in making possible what came after. Unfolding continuously over 30 minutes, its central elegy is framed by a volatile sequence of studies and variations (Chadwick understandably eschews analysis, even if a diagrammatic outline would have helped in elucidating the intricate overall design). Stylistically, too, the piece ranges widely across the pianistic spectrum from Schumann, via Szymanowski, to Messiaen – with the eventual outcome as personal as it is hard-won. A pity dedicatee Stephen Kovacevich never recorded a piece undoubtedly at the forefront of post-war piano music (British or otherwise), but Chadwick’s identification with the score is total.

The largest work here was also its composer’s swansong. Despite its seemingly abstract title, the String Quintet embodies a densely allusive and multi-layered narrative inspired by Marina Tsvetaeva and Edvard Munch while being given focus by Virginia Woolf, though this is not to suggest the piece is other than an intrinsically musical statement. The viola often assumes an almost concertante role during those three movements which make up the first part, then is largely absent from its successor – a lengthy meditation for violins and cellos whose recall of earlier ideas is riven by silence prior to a culmination capped by the viola’s ghostly offstage re-emergence. A singular experience, then, and a singular work which repays intensive study – from a composer who’s not taking the easy path was never vindicated more fully than here.

Does it all work?

Indeed. To say that Dale Roberts is a connoisseur’s composer should not imply his music is hermetic or obscure; rather it assumes the listener’s commitment and goodwill in the process of assessing the piece at hand. Each of these recordings benefited from the composer’s active participation during the recording sessions. Peter Sheppard Skaerved is at his imperious best, whether in partnership with Chadwick or as part of an augmented Kreutzer Quartet; while his and Chadwick’s booklet notes deftly combine musical discussion with personal recollection.

Is it recommended?

Absolutely. This is now the best point of entry into Dale Roberts’s output, and one hopes for more issues from Toccata. In particular, the Cello Concerto Deathwatch (perhaps coupled with the still-unperformed orchestral cycle Arbor Vitae) cries out for commercial release.

Further listening

You can listen to this new release on Spotify:

Further reading

You can read more about this release on the Toccata Classics website, and about the composer Jeremy Dale Roberts at his website