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String Quintet No 2

'Simpson: String Quartet No 13 & String Quintet No 2' (CDA66905)
Simpson: String Quartet No 13 & String Quintet No 2
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Part 1: Moderato (Tempo 1)
Part 2: Allegro (Tempo 2)
Part 3: Tempo 1
Part 4: Tempo 2
Part 5: Tempo 1
Part 6: Tempo 2
Part 7: Tempo 1

String Quintet No 2
Simpson’s Second Quintet, which was commissioned by the Maggini Quartet, is his last composition to date. It was composed mainly in 1991 and completed three years later, receiving its premiere at the Cheltenham Festival in July 1996 from the Maggini Quartet, with Pal Banda as the extra cellist.

Like the First Quintet, the new work is cast in one movement whose structure is determined by alternating two contrasting tempi. But whereas the speeds in the earlier work were closely related (one bar of Vivace matching a crotchet beat in Andante), the Moderato (Tempo 1) and Allegro (Tempo 2) of the Second Quintet behave more independently. In Quintet No 1 the Vivace gradually invades the Andante, generating the central climax, before the process is reversed and the faster tempo has been totally supplanted. In the Second Quintet the two speeds are felt to co-exist to a greater extent, so that there is less concern with initiating conflict between them.

Unlike late scores such as the Flute Concerto (1989) and Symphony No 11 (1990) which seem to be evolving towards a calmer, more transparent expression, this Quintet is outwardly severe in character, alternating some of Simpson’s toughest contrapuntal writing in the Allegro (a kind of gigantic Scherzo) with austere, sombre lyricism.

The entire argument of the Quintet revolves around the opening melody, shared between the cellos. Two sets of intervals are fundamental to the work’s architecture – rising and falling perfect fifths, and tritones, both of which are prominent in the first phrase. The Moderato sections are stated four times in all, enclosing three Allegro episodes. The third Allegro is the most extended and tumultuous, acting as the Quintet’s summit as it explodes into a shower of reiterated quavers. The opening intervals constitute the last appearance of the Moderato section, now arranged vertically. The final diminuendo is one of the darkest endings Simpson has ever conceived.

from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1997

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Details for CDA66905 track 17
Tempo 2
Recording date
19 February 1997
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Simpson: String Quartet No 13 & String Quintet No 2 (CDA66905)
    Disc 1 Track 17
    Release date: September 1997
    Deletion date: January 2013
    Archive Service
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