Hyperion Records

Sonata for violin and piano
The Violin Sonata is a fine example of the highly impressive two-movement design that has fascinated Robert Simpson, where a vigorous Allegro is followed by an extended second movement which combines the function of slow movement, scherzo and finale in a continuous increase of activity whilst the pulse remains largely unaltered. Other notable examples of his works which adhere to this procedure are the Third Symphony (1962) and the Horn Quartet (1977).

Both movements of the Violin Sonata are centred around G and are governed by the tensions released by interlocking major and minor thirds. Though not in strict sonata form, two distinct subjects are clearly identified in the opening Allegro: the first, announced on solo violin, a volatile flood of semiquavers, spanning a compass of the nearly three octaves. The second idea, heard shortly after, is a singing cantilena, introduced by piano and later joined by violin, where the interlocking thirds are particularly apparent. Much strenuous activity follows as both subjects are transformed into new ideas, and greater momentum is gained. But the ending is quiet — a strange 'double cadence' of G minor and G major, implying that the conflict is unresolved.

The Variations that open the second movement are amongst the most evocative, lyrical music in all Simpson. The bars expand from two to three beats for the final variation (predominantly quiet, but with a gentle current) which leads almost unnoticed into the Ricercare. Major and minor thirds are still prevalent, though the mood is very tender, despite being rigorously contrapuntal in texture. The gradual increase in energy is sustained with effortless control until a fierce Presto is reached, in a manner that recalls the final fugue of the Ninth Quartet (1982).

The dedicatees of the Violin Sonata are Pauline Lowbury and Christopher Green-Armytage, who gave the work its first performance in Wigmore Hall in February 1986.

from notes by Matthew Taylor 1995

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