Hyperion CDA67016 – Review by David Fanning

Simpson would never have claimed that choral music was his metier. Yet for lovers of his music there is something especially revealing about the two pieces here recorded. In Media morte in vita sumus (‘In the midst of death we are in life’) he deliberately reverses the scriptural motto in order to articulate his personal ‘anti-pessimist’ creed. The musical setting for chorus, brass and timpani is appropriately austere, and Simpson’s own words are translated into Latin for the sake of universality — shades of Nielsen’s Hymnus amoris rather than Stravinsky’s Oedipus rex. Tempi for a cappella chorus is a jeu d’esprit, the text consisting entirely of Italian tempo and character markings (again the affinity with Nielsen, that indefatigable coiner of unheard-of Italian instructions, suggests itself). There’s plenty of adirato, impatientemente, ircito, con Aria, feroce and furioso, but the musical correlates are by no means always predictable. The Corydon Singers offer superbly confident performances, as do the Corydon Brass Ensemble who also shine in the comparatively well-known Canzona.

Again it’s impossible to avoid comparisons with Nielsen when it comes to the 31-minute Eppur si muove (‘Tut it does move’) for organ. This 12-minute ricercare followed by a 19-minute passacaglia sets its jaw squarely against conventional organ-loft grandiosity. Its intellectual monumentality is clearly in the Commotio mould, though think it’s only fair to say it’s considerably tougher going than Nielsen’s late masterpiece. lain Quinn joins the long line of dedicated performers who have made Hyperion’s Simpson series such a consistent triumph. As usual from this source the recording quality leaves nothing to be desired.

David J. Fanning
Gramophone, February 1999