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String Quartet No 12

'Simpson: String Quartet No 12 & String Quintet' (CDA66503)
Simpson: String Quartet No 12 & String Quintet
Movement 1: Adagio
Track 1 on CDA66503 [15'41] Archive Service
Movement 2: Molto vivace
Track 2 on CDA66503 [15'39] Archive Service

String Quartet No 12
The Twelfth String Quartet was completed on 22 October 1987, having been commissioned for the 1988 Nottingham Festival. It was first performe there by the Coull Quartet who, as well as giving the first performances of Quartets 10 and 11, have long had a close asssociation with Simpson's music. No.12 is dedicated to the composer and scholar Lionel Pike.

The work is in two large movements, the first a deeply meditative, polyphonic slow movement and the second a colossal scherzo, in structure similar in some ways to the finale of the recent Eleventh Symphony (1990). The opening Adagio unfolds gently with a peaceful fugue subject announced by the first violin.

As often in Simpson's later music, particular intervals are made to generate the music. This fugue subject, spanning two octaves, makes much use of minor thirds and perfect fourths, and these intervals inform the whole work. The fugue subject gives rise to all the main ideas in the movement, with new melodic and rhythmic forms, sometimes compressed into fragments. At length the music gains in urgency, culminating in an intense fortissimo climax near the end, before dying away quietly.

The second movement (Molto vivace) is perhaps the longest scherzo for string quartet in existence. This ferociously energetic movement is still dominated by minor thirds and fourths; like the central part of Simpson's Ninth Symphony it adopts Beethoven's characteristic one-in-a-bar triple-time pulses, astonishingly maintaining the pace for nearly 1800 bars, though it is not, as the composer says 'all just sound and fury'. Large spans are in fact restrained and delicate, but even here the energy is latent. Throughout the piece there is also much humour, often of a rough, forceful kind, sometimes skittish and mischievous, as near the end of the movement, where an entirely new theme appears on the viola after an extended climax. The Quartet ends abruptly in a blaze of immense energy.

from notes by Matthew Taylor 1992

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDA66503 track 1
Recording date
24 May 1991
Recording venue
Benslow Music Trust Concert Hall, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Gary Cole
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Simpson: String Quartet No 12 & String Quintet (CDA66503)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: April 1992
    Deletion date: June 2012
    Archive Service
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