The Mercury Quartet perform works by Mark Simpson

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mark Simpson
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Night Music
WORKS: Night Music; Ariel; Nur Musik; Echoes and Embers; Un Regalo, etc
PERFORMER: Mark Simpson (clarinet), Nicholas Daniel, Jonathan Small (oboe), Guy Johnston, Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), Alexei Grynyuk, Richard Uttley (piano); Mercury Quartet, Ensemble 10/10, etc
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D225

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Mark Simpson (b1988) demonstrates in his music several typically British characteristics: high craftsmanship; reliance on literary sources; precise evocations of places or moods. Yet what hits home immediately in this magnificent collection is the music’s individuality and strength. The sounds keep flying in mutating swirls, the strident morphing into the lyrical, or vice versa. The way pieces end is also distinctive, often with a detached little phrase, quirky as a retroussé nose. Above all, there’s Simpson’s blazing confidence, his full understanding of instrumental capabilities, and love of pushing them to the edge.

The composing voice is already clear in Lov(escape), written for his own clarinet when he became winner of the 2006 Young Musician of the Year. But the voice grips strongest in later pieces like Ariel, a suitably tortured response to Sylvia Plath’s poem, or the 2014 Night Music for a particularly restless cello and piano. Tension sags a little in the clarinet-and-piano Echoes and Embers, but I didn’t mind the respite. 

The recordings, from numerous venues, well-capture the music’s dark lustre and the performers’ full-throttle skills. A special bouquet here for Un Regalo, a 300th birthday gift for Guy Johnston’s cello, lovingly embraced in a warm church acoustic.

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Geoff Brown