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Beethoven’s second movement is one of his most unusual scherzi, both in form and manner. Consequently, Simpson preferred to allude to its tonal structure (including its prominent use of repeated notes) rather than imitate its mood and pace. Both movements begin with solo viola playing an isolated rhythm on B flat; Beethoven’s is in moderate tempo and is playful and delicate, whereas Simpson chooses a very fast triple-metre opening with a menacing crescendo! However, something of the fantastic humour of the Beethoven original has been skilfully recaptured, with its rapid, unpredictable changes of texture and activity.
Robert Simpson was eager to avoid the funereal overtones of Beethoven’s adagio, so he decided to compose a slow movement at a slightly quicker tempo, an andante, whose emphasis is more on plaintive lyricism, though there are passionate outbursts of extreme power at climactic moments. A low C on cello leads directly into the finale which, like the first movement, is a large sonata design. Simpson describes the Beethoven finale as ‘Arcadian, airy’; though his variation is more combative, making deliberate play with the rivalry of the two conflicting keys, F and D, which begins to show itself in this work far earlier than in the Rasumovsky. Like Beethoven’s, Simpson’s last movement slows down towards the end to make an expressive point of the gentle tension between F and D, though Simpson’s adagio interlude is more extended and penetrates deeper. This might well be because greater relaxation is needed to offset the more radical tonal contest. This is pursued right to the end of the explosive coda; the key of D nearly gains the upper hand, but is aggressively dismissed by F at the very last bar.
from notes by Maurice Powell © 1990