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Symphony No 3

'Simpson: Symphonies Nos 3 & 5' (CDA66728)
Simpson: Symphonies Nos 3 & 5
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'Simpson: The Complete Symphonies' (CDS44191/7)
Simpson: The Complete Symphonies
Buy by post £33.00 CDS44191/7  7CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo
Track 1 on CDS44191/7 CD3 [14'38] 7CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
Track 1 on CDA66728 [16'09] Please, someone, buy me …
Movement 2. Part 1: Adagio
Movement 2. Part 2: Andante
Movement 2. Part 3: Allegretto
Movement 2. Part 4: Allegro
Movement 2. Part 5: Vivace
Movement 2. Part 6: Presto
Movement 2. Part 7: Tutti
Movement 2. Part 8: [No tempo marking]
Movement 2: Adagio – Presto
Track 2 on CDS44191/7 CD3 [16'12] 7CDs Boxed set (at a special price)

Symphony No 3
Robert Simpson’s Symphony No 3, written in 1962, was commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and dedicated to Havergal Brian who had inscribed his own Symphony No 13 to Robert Simpson three years earlier. Like many of Simpson’s works of the 1950s and 1960s, Symphony No 3 embraces the principle of ‘emergent tonality’ where a conflict is pursued between two opposing tonal centres, in this case C major and B flat. There are just two movements: the first a broad sonata-allegro, the second (surely one of the most impressive and original structures in twentieth-century symphonism) ‘a huge composed accelerando, but with the dynamics repressed’—in the composer’s own words.

The opening movement is the only example to date of a self-contained sonata-allegro in Simpson’s symphonic output. The attentive listener may detect a Beethovenian model which strongly determines the overall structure and dynamism of the musical argument. The Symphony begins mysteriously—octave Cs on violins suspended above sinister, semitonal woodwind murmurings. Then the first tutti, an explosive B flat minor statement introducing two motifs simultaneously which are crucial to the course of the movement as a whole.

After a recurrence of these two ideas, and subsequent development, the second subject group appears in F. This contains a number of themes: a calmer, unison melody first on strings and then oboes and clarinets; a hushed, chromatic figure on unison strings, creeping down and then up; and a brief, dissonant climax (tutti) that resolves onto an F major chord.

The development is concerned principally with expanding many of the former ideas so as to create broader paragraphs. The moment of reprise is heralded by the fiercest collision yet between B flat minor and C, the latter forcefully reiterated on trumpets and timpani. Eventually B flat minor is reinstated, and it is that key which represents the return of the second subject. B flat minor also dominates the large coda, which opens gently at a slightly slower tempo with a further transformation of (a). The final climax progresses through a thrilling com­pression of phrase-lengths and a defiant cadence in B flat minor.

The second movement is the first example in Simpson’s work of a massive accelerando from Adagio to Presto where the basic pulse remains unaltered. The composer has suggested it is ‘nature music, in a sense—the only piece of mine which has an origin in some external situation …’ Alternatively, it can be seen as a continuous structure evolving from the initial idea on first violins. Each increase in tempo brings about fresh transformations of the first theme: bassoon, Andante; bassoon, Allegretto; cellos, basses, and later all strings, Allegro; oboes and flutes, Vivace; second violins, Presto, the music seldom rising above piano. Finally it explodes into a vigorous tutti, driven forward with thrilling, Beethovenian momentum culminating in a chord which, in the words of Hugh Ottoway, ‘is nothing other than a dominant seventh of C major—in root position too—yet it sounds like some dazzling new discovery’. This climax quickly subsides, revealing a sustained B flat in the bass, against which a solo clarinet recalls the opening violin theme for the last time. The B flat then moves up to C, and the Symphony disappears magically on a bare fifth, C and G.

from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1994

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Details for CDA66728 track 9
Movement 2 Part 8: [No tempo marking]
Recording date
24 May 1994
Recording venue
St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Simpson: Symphonies Nos 3 & 5 (CDA66728)
    Disc 1 Track 9
    Release date: November 1994
    Please, someone, buy me …
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