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Simpson has mastered the art of writing true Beethovenian, one-in-a-bar scherzi. The second movement of this quartet is such an example: lithe, energetic and vital with plenty of dynamism packed into a mere four minutes. Much relaxation is provided by the next movement, a noble, eloquent Andante which grows steadily from the cello’s opening phrase. In much of Simpson’s later slow movements a Bach-like serenity and deep contemplation can be sensed. Here is a fine example of such, as well as being one of the most beautifully transparent quartet slow movements this century.
Rough humour dominates the Allegro finale, a piece of great force, deliberation and physical strength. Much of the movement is subdued, however, and there is a long stretch in the middle that is mainly pianissimo, carried along by a gentle momentum. The final bars generate massive excitement as the music gathers steam, and explosive triplets are scattered amongst all four instruments.
There are few string quartets since Beethoven that achieve a perfect balance, both structurally and emotionally, whilst also displaying the composer’s imagination at its finest. The Quartet No 14 of Robert Simpson is such an example. It is dedicated to John Young.
from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1993