Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo
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
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