Symphony No. 11; Variations on a theme by Nielsen
Hyperion CDA67500 – Review by Guy Rickards
…[The symphony] is scored for a Classical orchestra, but it shares the airiness and transparency of texture of other late Simpson scores, for example the still-unrecorded Flute and Cello Concertos. The two-movement structure evokes the traditional symphony’s middle movements, Andante and Scherzo, extended to encompass attributes of the outer spans. The first opens out fan-wise from and returns to a radiant polyphony sounding both typical and utterly untypical: in places the string writing has the intensity of Shostakovich, yet there are passages of quiet, single-part spareness. The second span, Allegro vivace, builds with familiar Simpson verve into a dynamic, imposing edifice, the brass counterpoint crowning the final climax before the subdued, throwaway coda. Standing in Simpson’s output much like the eighth in Beethoven’s, No. 11 is a calm yet vigorous upbeat to his culminatory choral symphony. Or should have been: Simpson died before being able to execute his plan for No. 12. The coupling is a delightful set of variations on a theme from Nielsen’s late incidental music, Ebbe Skamulsen. Written in 1983 to a BBC commission, it shows off Simpson’s humour (evident in both theme selection as in, for instance, the tiny scherzetto variations 4–6). The fine seventh and Adagio ninth variations give over to the work’s second part, an 11-minute finale which develops into a most impressive structure.
Matthew Taylor secures magnificent playing from the City of London Sinfonia, especially in the symphony where his pacing is ideal, due to this knowledge of the work – it was written for him and the orchestra. The Nielsen Variations purr along splendidly. An utterly marvellous disc, which I cannot recommend highly enough.