Simpson: Variations and Finale on a Theme by Beethoven; Haydn Variations

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COMPOSERS: Simpson
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Variations and Finale on a Theme by Beethoven; Haydn Variations
PERFORMER: Raymond Clarke (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66827 DDD
The hallmarks of Simpson’s music are his formidable sense of structure and his ability to make a simple motif generate a lengthy and powerful paragraph. The music here spans 45 years, and it is fascinating to perceive these qualities not only in the 1990 Variations and Finale on a Theme by Beethoven, but as far back as the Piano Sonata of 1946.

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Simpson has disparaged his Haydn Variations in relation to the more recent set, on the same theme, which form the whole of his (almost) hour-long Ninth String Quartet, but the cumulative momentum which he himself considers essential to the variation form is present in both, and they make an interesting comparison. His deep understanding of Beethoven’s late fugues is also manifest, but he recreates the idiom in powerful 20th-century terms. Whatever Simpson writes, it never lacks either imagination or substance, and Hyperion are to be congratulated on releasing so much of his output.

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Raymond Clarke is the ideal advocate. One could perhaps question his use of the pedal in parts of the Sonata’s slow movement, and the occasional left-hand melody is understated, but such reservations are mightily outweighed by the authority he brings to these gripping works. Wadham Sutton