Unicorn UNS234 – Review by Stephen Johnson

With Hyperion apparently committed to recording all the symphonies, we may soon be in the unprecedented position of having two versions of a major Simpson work in the catalogue. Hyperion’s Third will have plenty to live up to – particularly Horenstein’s powerful handling of the “huge composed accelerando” that is the second movement – but I hope it will make a stronger case for the opening Allegro. Horenstein’s reading of this movement has an impressive dogged quality, and it gains steadily in energy, but comparing it with a tape of the 1970 Proms performance by the RPO and Sir Charles Groves, I’m struck by the latter’s greater drive and rhythmic bite. It also makes me strongly aware of how unflattering the dull, studio-ish Unicorn recording is to this music: Horenstein phrases the second movement’s hushed opening beautifully – it’s a perfect demonstration of pianissimo espressivo – but how much more telling and atmospheric it would have sounded in a really responsive acoustic.

Enough of complaints. It’s still good to have this pioneering account of the Symphony back, and on such a well-filled disc. The Clarinet Quintet is another impressively thought-out piece, even if it doesn’t scale the heights of the Symphony, and the Aeolian Quartet/Bernard Walton performance gains considerably in immediacy in this CD transfer – the sudden fortissimo at 2’28” (track 3) is a bracing surprise.

Stephen Johnson
Gramophone, June 1990