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Like so much of Simpson's later music, the Trio opens with a phrase that generates the course of the entire work: a simple, unaccompanied violin melody which explores ever-decreasing intervals within the span of the initial perfect fifth, G sharp - D sharp. As the composer himself once commented, '… the texture is mostly light and transparent, and often in four parts, like a quartet for the two stringed instruments, and the two hands of the pianist'. After a brief but turbulent climax featuring superimposed grinding dominant sevenths on the piano (a highly characteristic Simpson fingerprint which also occurs in the Violin Sonata), the tempo relaxes for a calm, evocative coda, where the violin and cello, sempre pianissimo, present a new transformation of the opening violin tune.
The next movement is a Scherzo in fast duple time. Here the intervals gradually expand outwards from minor seconds to perfect fifths. Again the texture is light, though there are outbursts of sustained ferocity in the latter stages. The cello introduces the slow movement, Adagio: a set of increasingly elaborate variations on a very eloquent, simple melody, with gentle asides from the piano. Despite mounting activity, the dynamics are deliberately repressed until the penultimate variation (Più mosso), a vigorous confrontation between the piano and strings, whereas the last variation contains some of the most deeply contemplative music in the whole Trio.
The piano launches the final, a fugue of great muscular strength which becomes less strictly contrapuntal as it progresses. After a final trenchant climax there is a mysterious coda; everything is dispersed into fragments (a device also chosen in the closing bars of the Eleventh Symphony), until the work finally cadences on C.
Undoubtedly one of Simpson's most uncompromising chamber works, the Piano Trio nonetheless displays the supreme powers of his compositional strength and integrity, and one of the most closely argued single spans in his oeuvre.
from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1995