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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67500
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

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 İ 2004


Other albums featuring this work
'Simpson: The Complete Symphonies' (CDS44191/7)
Simpson: The Complete Symphonies
MP3 £30.00FLAC £30.00ALAC £30.00Buy by post £33.00 CDS44191/7  7CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  

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