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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: 25 minutes 41 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)

Variations on a theme by Nielsen
composer
1983

Other recordings available for download
City of London Sinfonia, Matthew Taylor (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Nielsen theme used by Robert Simpson is from a suite of incidental music to the play Ebbe Skamulsen, which Nielsen was composing while simultaneously wrestling with the final pages of his Sixth Symphony. The theme, scored only for winds, three horns and tuba, is a glorious example of ‘quadro-tonality’, if such a thing exists, each instrument sticking obstinately to its own key apparently oblivious to the opposing keys. Hence the flute, oboes and clarinets begin in G, the bassoons in C, the horns in F, while the tuba amuses itself by trying out a few E flat major arpeggios. The effect is extraordinarily entertaining, although you don’t have to have any awareness of this key collision to enjoy the tune. As Robert Simpson himself would surely have said, “it doesn’t matter if you can’t tell a fifth from a rissole!”.

The first three variations preserve the outline of the tune. No 1, which shows some of Simpson’s most evocative scoring, scatters Nielsen’s four keys throughout the entire range of the orchestra amidst strange half-lights and high violin figurations, whereas No 2 adopts a more full-blooded mode of expression, emphasizing the interval of the fifth, both harmonically and melodically. The next variation, in a gently rocking triple time, assumes the mood of a lullaby. It is hushed throughout as the main melody is passed principally between solo winds, muted horns in unison, high violins and divided lower strings.

Variations 4, 5 and 6, played without a break, represent a scherzo, started by the strings with a real sense of latent, bubbling energy. The texture builds in variation 5 as the winds colour the texture, and tension mounts further still in variation 6 with a characteristic Simpson crescendo. The climax is reached at variation 7. This is an impressive display of rugged power, with plenty of brass, as the tonalities conflict with maximum force. An acceleration leads into the eighth variation – a light, airy scherzo, transparent in scoring and with more than a touch of mischief. The humour is intensified latterly by the tuba, who evidently feels like asserting himself once more by introducing his part of the original theme, though, alas, he choses the ‘wrong’ key of A. But the character changes radically for variation 9 – a fully formed symphonic slow movement, deeply contemplative throughout, featuring a broad chorale alternating between solo cellos and trombones.

The second part of the work, the Finale, starts very quietly with a calm string fugato. As with many of Simpson’s larger finales, the pulse remains unaltered, though an impression of an increase in tempo is achieved by shortening the length of bars until we find ourselves propelled by a fierce momentum reminiscent of a Beethoven scherzo. Throughout these closing bars Nielsen’s theme is continually evolved and keys collide with sustained power. But the key of C is allowed the last word.

The Variations on a theme by Nielsen were commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, and were dedicated to Ray and Rosemary Few.

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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