Simpson: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Simpson
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Vernon Handley
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66505 DDD
The overriding impression left by Robert Simpson’s symphonies is one of rugged strength interspersed with quiet contemplation. They flow naturally from the pen of a noted authority on Sibelius and, especially, Nielsen, and their structure and rhythmic drive recall the composer’s lifelong fascination with Beethoven.

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The Second Symphony is scored for the same orchestra as Beethoven’s First, though with trumpets in D instead of B flat. It revolves around three key centres. The Fourth Symphony — longer and using a larger orchestra — is equally tonal, with the interval of the perfect fourth predominating. Nothing here should frighten off anyone with an ear for the more substantial works of Shostakovich. Yet Simpson rises far above the merely derivative. He proves conclusively that a powerful message can still be conveyed by broadly traditional methods, and Hyperion must be applauded for their keen espousal of his music.

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Vernon Handley (another doughty champion) could scarcely be bettered, piloting an ever-alert and responsive Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra through the kaleidoscopic variations of timbre in these demanding scores. There is no alternative to this recording. But who needs one with performances as strong as this and with the crystal clarity of the Hyperion sound? A considerable achievement, very highly recommended. Wadham Button