Tuesday, October 03, 2006

These Simpsons are a cult classic

Autumn 2006 looks like being the season of the boxed set, and an absolute ‘must-buy’ is the newly released seven disc retrospective of Robert Simpson’s eleven magnificent symphonies from Hyperion. Simpson, born in 1921, was a notable champion of Nielsen and Bruckner while working as a music producer for the BBC, but resigned over what he considered to be the Corporation’s positive discrimination in favour of serial and atonal music. The Guardian obituary paints an excellent word picture of Robert Simpson (photo below) -
'His views were indeed held firmly. He was a lifelong pacifist, and his move to south-west Ireland in the early days of the Thatcher era was encouraged by the fact that Ireland did not have a nuclear arsenal. Having joined the BBC at the heyday of the Third Programme, he was appalled at the degeneration of its standards; like his friend Hans Keller, he saw the corporation as the ideal means of communicating the values he held to be important - not because of any cultural snobbery but because they both believed deeply in the civilising force of great art. The breaking-point came in 1980, when the BBC attempted to make swingeing cuts in its orchestral resources, occasioning the musicians union boycott of BBC work that summer. Simpson resigned, writing in a letter to the Times that he could no longer work for an institution whose views he no longer respected.'
But don’t be misled into thinking that Simpson’s music is conservative or unadventurous. Starting from the legacy of Carl Nielsen (who remains one of the most underrated symphonists himself) he exploited the symphony orchestra to full advantage and developed a musical voice that offers a viable alternative to the late 20th century avant-garde. As well as the wonderful symphonies he wrote fifteen string quartets, and died in 1997 aged 76. Hyperion’s invaluable boxed set offers the eleven symphonies and the Variations on a Theme of Nielsen, with the symphonies conducted by another grossly neglected contemporary musician, Vernon Handley. Nobody should resist these classic Simpsons at budget price (around £40 - $76US for seven CDs), and kudos to Hyperion for yet once again showcasing yet another top-flight, but sorely neglected, 20th century composer. The Hyperion website has samples from Robert Simpson's Ninth Symphony.

For more boxed sets of music by another scandalously neglected composer take An Overgrown Path to Recommended cure for Shostakovich fatigue, and for another contemporary composer who fell out with the BBC take An Overgrown Path to Jerry Springer rebel grabs Gramophone accolade

Image credit - Simpsontrivia. The Robert Simpson symphonies, and all CDs featured On An Overgrown Path are available from the leading independent CD store, Prelude Records. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included for "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

2 comments:

sfmike said...

You really are a fountain of information. Thanks, I'll be checking Simpson out.

Daniel said...

Simpsons symphonies are wonderful,as are his string quartets and music for brass. The ninth symphony which could almost sound like a vast galaxy forming in the depths of space is well worth investigating.