Simpson: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 13; String Quintet No. 2

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Clarinet Quintet; String Quartet No. 13; String Quintet No. 2
PERFORMER: Thea King (clarinet), Christopher van Kampen (cello); Delmé String Quartet
This important issue completes Hyperion’s cycle of Robert Simpson’s 15 string quartets. No. 13 is a compact and intensely argued work, containing four linked movements in related tempos. No less impressive is the String Quintet No. 2 (with two cellos), Simpson’s last work to date, and one composed with immense difficulty after a series of crippling strokes. Two contrasting speeds alternate here throughout until the music spirals slowly downwards at the end, before breaking off as though in midstream. It leaves a feeling of extraordinary bleakness.


The earlier Clarinet Quintet lasts over half an hour, and shows Simpson pursuing a Beethovenian dialectic with characteristic integrity. Its opening pays unmistakable tribute to the fugal beginning of Beethoven’s late Op. 131 quartet, though the music’s actual substance owes allegiance to no one. The sudden, childlike innocence of the work’s ending is an inspiration of touching originality: elsewhere, the material does not, perhaps, always sustain the music’s length.


The Delmé Quartet, admirers and faithful interpreters of Simpson’s music for many years, play with great dedication throughout, and they have been well served by the engineers. Misha Donat