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Track(s) taken from CDS44191/7

Symphony No 4

composer
1970/2

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Recording details: July 1992
Poole Arts Centre, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: October 1992
Total duration: 46 minutes 7 seconds
 
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Other recordings available for download

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Reviews

‘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)
The Fourth Symphony was completed in 1972 when Robert Simpson was fifty-one. With a duration of over forty minutes it was his largest work to date in terms of scale, archictecture and sheer boldness of symphonic invention. Since the first performance, which was conducted by James Loughran with the Hall‚ Orchestra, the composer has revised the slow movement by quickening the pulse from Adagio to Andante, altering the contours of the cello solo near the beginning, and directing the final climax to be hushed. There are additional smaller revisions also, mainly concerning instrumentation and balance.

Simpson's No 4 is a classical E flat Symphony, so much so that the Scherzo and slow movement are in the dominant and subdominant keys respectively, whilst the outer movements are firmly rooted in E flat. It is arguably Simpson's most friendly, good-humoured symphony, and the one that seems to bear the strongest spiritual affinity with his great hero, Beethoven. The orchestral requirements are notably larger than in the Second Symphony: 3 flutes, all of which double piccolo (a device also used in the Third Symphony), 2 each of oboes, clarinets and bassoons, double-bassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets (2 in B flat, 2 in D), 3 trombones, tuba, side drum, cymbals, timpani and strings.

The opening 'Allegro moderato' is fresh, buoyant and transparently scored throughout; indeed, the composer once suggested that he might have been subconciously recalling the sound world of the first movement of Nielsen' s Sixth Symphony (Sinfonia Semplice). Perfect fourths play a crucial part in the opening movement, as they do in the entire symphony, and this is immediately evident in the Symphony's first phrase, announced on violins and cellos.

This is not a sonata-allegro in the traditional sense, but the initial statement does reappear frequently as the music continually evolves and develops. Only at the end is a brief climax reached, but this suddenly disappears, leaving the strings to settle on a bare fifth (E flat and B flat) as fragments of former themes are wittily scattered around in all directions.

The titanic second movement is a tour de force. It is Simpson's first symphonic scherzo, though no listener would sense this when experiencing the massive confidence and breathtaking energy that this music unleashes. Again the influence of Beethoven is felt, in this case the 'Molto vivace' from the Ninth Symphony. Both works adopt a vigorous one-in-a-bar pulse, are cast in fully developed sonata form, with the first part repeated, and are examples of the most massive orchestral scherzi in symphonic literature. Simpson's central Trio is equally remarkable: a quotation from the first movement of Haydn's Symphony No 76 appears, alternating with mounting interjections. The interjections grow in strength and ferocity, but the Haydn remains innocent and unaffected despite the surrounding turbulence. The last and most shattering interjection leads directly back to the Scherzo, which is not a da capo repeat as in Beethovenian scherzi; the material is all familiar but the music now develops in fascinating new directions.

The Andante begins quietly, mysteriously, before introducing a long, deeply contemplative solo cello melody supported by delicate, slowly evolving string accompaniement.

The tempo remains unaltered in the extended central section, heralded by a noble horn solo, though the bars are shortened from 4/4 to 6/8. Here serene, graceful counterpoint floats past, the texture is still transparent and the mood warmly expressive. After a sudden pause, and hushed piano on full orchestra, the music relaxes into the original 4/4 pulse for a shortened reprise of the first section, the original ideas now reduced to the barest essentials. The Finale begins attacca and is for the most part a free recapitulation of the first movement, though now converted into a swinging, triple-time metre. The orchestration is more full-blooded and weighty. Again, the interval of the fourth is prominent, and throughout this Finale the first movement's themes undergo continual transformation and metamorphosis, both rhythmically and melodically, so as to gain new vitality and create new energy. Whereas the first movement faded away at the end, the coda of the Finale actually begins with a delightful, innocent, waltz-like tune on second violins, demonstrating a supreme gift for melodic simplicity and directness that Haydn would surely admire.

This coda is long, cumulative, and generates immense excitement. A final crescendo is built, the music flexes its muscles — that is to say by expanding and contracting its phrase-lengths — and even elements of the Scherzo are introduced to add fuel to the fire. The composer has described this closing section as 'full of fierce joy' when the final bars blast out a powerful transformation of the Symphony's opening phrase.

from notes by Matthew Taylor 1992

Other albums featuring this work

Simpson: Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
CDA66505
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