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The opening movement is transparent in texture and is set in C major, but grief is its pervasive feeling. It presents two ideas that generate the thematic argument throughout. The first of these is an elegiac viola solo clearly demonstrating Simpson's masterly ability to create melody of the utmost simplicity that nonetheless retains a highly distinctive personal idiom. The second is a more chromatic, melancholy idea, announced by the first violin soon after against sustained lines on lower strings.
Fragments of both themes are often combined. After an impassioned climax the viola solo returns, but it is now expanded and has been transformed into a melody in which both themes are absorbed into a single line.
The second movement is an extended, vigorous sonata-allegro whose urgency and cumulative power is controlled with supreme skill, especially when considering the movement's broad design. A thrusting motive on violin and cello is hurled against repeated open fifths on second and viola, creating a full-blooded and weighty quartet sonority. At length the pulse broadens from two to three beats in the bar as a second group is presented: a graceful, singing melody whose repeated notes distantly recall Nielsen. This figure also appears in the development section which introduces a third theme consisting of an eloquent descending figure on violins. Though the dynamics are repressed for long periods during this part, there is a strong sense of latent energy as the themes are continually transformed into new shapes, thereby heightening the dramatic tension. The repeated notes become more insistent until the original fifths reappear marking the beginning of the recapitulation, yet even here the music is continually evolving. Highly-charged scalic configurations dominate the extended coda with powerful interjections (consisting of fragments from the original themes) culminating in a glorious canonic statement of the third theme on violins. The momentum created is considerable as the music is propelled to its emphatic E major conclusion.
from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1990