String Quartet Nos 7, 8 and 9
Hyperion CDA66117 & CDA66127 – Review by David Fanning
Quiet music with a sense of purpose and forward-looking destiny; slow music which bears the promise of a controlled release of energy; these are rare and treasurable qualities in music of our time, and they make their presence felt at the beginnings of Simpson’s Seventh and Eighth Quartets. How he progresses through subdued scherzo to vehement climax is something to reflect on at length, and with further acquaintance comes the Beethovenian thrill of hearing the music think. But at first these things just steal up on you and take the breath away.
The Seventh Quartet is dedicated to Susi Jeans, widow of astronomer and mathematician Sir James Jeans; the Eighth is dedicated to entomologist David Gillett and his wife. Both works draw on the kind of motion suggested by those areas of scientific enquiry. On the other hand the Ninth calls up what would seem to be the bitterest enemy of forward movement—the palindrome; 32 variations and a fugue, in fact, on the minuet from Haydn’s Symphony No. 47, and all of them, like the original theme, palindromic. If Simpson’s powers of invention falter at any stage in this hour-long tour de force I have yet to discover where. But then I find this music so completely absorbing that the necessary critical detachment is difficult to achieve. The only reservation that did register was over recording quality, which for the Ninth Quartet is disappointingly boxy—sensuous appeal is not what this music is about, but a more ingratiating acoustic would not do it any harm— and I would prefer to hear the Seventh without the distraction, however faint, of traffic noise.
I must not forget to hail the Delmé Quartet for their outstandingly dedicated performances. The Ninth Quartet was composed for their twentieth anniversary and they prove themselves entirely worthy of the honour.
David J. Fanning
Gramophone, February 1990