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String Quartet No 14

composer
1990

 
The Vanbrugh Quartet gave the first performance of Simpson’s String Quartet No 14 in 1991. This is the first of Robert Simpson’s quartets since No 6 (1975) to adopt a classical four-movement design, and perhaps provides an ideal introduction for those still unfamiliar with his music. The opening Allegro is fluid, highly active and predominantly contrapuntal in texture. Though the movement avoids strict sonata form, a clear second subject appears: a nervous, double-dotted figure which generates further contrapuntal entries and immense rhythmic energy at a later stage. The ending dies away quietly in a mood of temporary stillness.

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

Recordings

Simpson: String Quartets Nos 14 & 15
CDA66626Archive Service

Details

Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Track 1 on CDA66626 [7'48] Archive Service
Movement 2: Presto
Track 2 on CDA66626 [3'50] Archive Service
Movement 3: Andante
Track 3 on CDA66626 [9'07] Archive Service
Movement 4: Allegro
Track 4 on CDA66626 [9'24] Archive Service

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