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20th October 2018 at 3:30pm
2019 CD recording
DDA 25167

Symphony No. 11; Variations on a theme by Nielsen

Hyperion CDA67500 Review by Guy Rickards

…[The symphony] is scored for a Classical orchestra, but it shares the airiness and transparency of texture of other late Simpson scores, for example the still-unrecorded Flute and Cello Concertos. The two-movement structure evokes the traditional symphony’s middle movements, Andante and Scherzo, extended to encompass attributes of the outer spans. The first opens out fan-wise from and returns to a radiant polyphony sounding both typical and utterly untypical: in places the string writing has the intensity of Shostakovich, yet there are passages of quiet, single-part spareness. The second span, Allegro vivace, builds with familiar Simpson verve into a dynamic, imposing edifice, the brass counterpoint crowning the final climax before the subdued, throwaway coda. Standing in Simpson’s output much like the eighth in Beethoven’s, No. 11 is a calm yet vigorous upbeat to his culminatory choral symphony. Or should have been: Simpson died before being able to execute his plan for No. 12. The coupling is a delightful set of variations on a theme from Nielsen’s late incidental music, Ebbe Skamulsen. Written in 1983 to a BBC commission, it shows off Simpson’s humour (evident in both theme selection as in, for instance, the tiny scherzetto variations 4-6). The fine seventh and Adagio ninth variations give over to the work’s second part, an 11-minute finale which develops into a most impressive structure.

Matthew Taylor secures magnificent playing from the City of London Sinfonia, especially in the symphony where his pacing is ideal, due to this knowledge of the work – it was written for him and the orchestra. The Nielsen Variations purr along splendidly. An utterly marvellous disc, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Guy Rickards