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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDS44191/7
Recording details: December 2003
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: August 2004
Total duration: 28 minutes 52 seconds

‘One of the outstanding recording projects of our time … this Hyperion series deserves to stand as a monument while other more superficially glamorous ventures rise and fall around it. If it does not do so, and if it does not eventually force Simpson’s breakthrough into the orchestral repertoire, there will truly be no justice’ (Gramophone)

'One of the best-kept secrets of post-war British Music… Utterly compelling' (The Guardian)

‘In lieu of live shows, please buy any or all of the Hyperion Simpson discs. Buy the Ninth Quartet, the First Quartet, the Third and Fifth Symphonies, the Second or Fourth, all the quartets, all the symphonies … but start soon, or you’ll miss a lifetime’s inspiration. This is serious music, through which one determined Englishman hurled down the gauntlet to the self-regarding second half of the 20th century, and helped justify once more music’s claim to be the most elevating, questing, and stimulating accompaniment to the life we all lead’ (Fanfare, USA)

'This set is the way to acquire the Simpson symphonies' (MusicWeb International)

'These are outstanding recordings of music that is always adventurous and challenging yet ultimately rewarding' (NewClassics.com)

'Hats off to Hyperion for such a sensibly priced and stylish repackaging of one of the great recording projects of the last two decades – the recording of the eleven symphonies of Robert Simpson … In a superbly cogent and insightful booklet-essay newly commissioned for this slim-line box set Calum McDonald describes Robert Simpson’s cycle of symphonies as “surely one of the most imposing bodies of work of any British composer … Simpson is a symphonist of European stature, whose music deserves to be known the world over.” This last disc was dedicated to the memory of Hyperion’s indefatigable founder Ted Perry and forms a handsome conclusion to a towering achievement for everyone involved' (ClassicalSource.com)

Symphony No 11
composer
1990

Andante  [13'25]
Allegro vivace  [15'27]

Other recordings available for download
City of London Sinfonia, Matthew Taylor (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Like the second and seventh symphonies, Robert Simpson’s last symphony, No 11, is scored for a classical orchestra: in this case, double wind, four horns, two trumpets, timpani and strings. As with Simpson’s Quartet No 12 (1987), the Eleventh Symphony consists of two movements only, the first predominantly slow, the second fast; both movements assuming equal importance. Though No 11 is significantly shorter than Simpson’s three preceding symphonies, it is no ‘divertimento’. Far from representing a culmination in Simpson’s symphonic thinking, it seems to hint at new directions and new manners of expression hitherto unprecedented in the history of modern symphonism.

One of the most striking features of the Eleventh Symphony is the chamber-like quality of most of the Andante and of a large part of the finale. Simpson once said that he wished to create a sort of luminosity of texture not unlike that of Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony. Indeed, there is a sense of spaciousness and eloquence, reminiscent of much of the slow music from the ninth and tenth symphonies but never expressed with the economy of scoring enjoyed in No 11.

The first movement, Andante, is largely polyphonic in design: its pervasive feeling is one of tenderness and quiet serenity, despite continual shifts of orchestral colour. This is apparent from the work’s opening paragraph where a motif on the first violins, which provides the basis for much of the argument throughout the symphony, is answered by oboe and muted horns. The accompaniment is often very sparse, sometimes consisting of a single line. The music evolves slowly, seldom rising above piano, continually transforming the initial violin theme into new patterns. Soon the texture becomes more animated until the whole orchestra reaches a majestic unison C, before the music floats off into an ethereal coda.

The Allegro vivace must surely be one of the longest fast symphonic finales since Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Simpson once suggested that the opening might have ‘something of the character of a Mendelssohn scherzo, though I’m not trying to imitate Mendelssohn’s language. Anyone who tries to do that is an idiot!’. Certainly the woodwind flickers supported by delicate string pizzicati that launch this movement recall the style of Mendelssohn (the scherzo of the Octet, or the music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), but as the piece gathers steam it is taken over by a more muscular vitality and Beethovenian energy. The final climax is combative, dominated by an insistent B flat, before disappearing on a defiant timpani note in a similar manner to the corresponding part of Simpson’s Ninth Symphony. The coda is made up of strange rustling fragments, “until the whole thing ends with a flick of the wrist, as if dismissed” in the words of the composer. So ends one of the greatest symphonic cycles of the twentieth century.

Robert Simpson provided the following additional note prior to the first performance of the Eleventh Symphony conducted by Matthew Taylor with the City of London Sinfonia:

After hearing Matthew Taylor conduct a superbly penetrating performance of my Symphony No 7 with an orchestra mainly consisting of students, I felt an immediate compulsion to compose a symphony for him. It depends on his opinion of that performance of No 7 whether he considers this new symphony a reward or an act of revenge! If the latter, I do not share his views.

from notes by Matthew Taylor © 2004


Other albums featuring this work
'Simpson: Symphony No. 11 & Nielsen Variations' (CDA67500)
Simpson: Symphony No. 11 & Nielsen Variations

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