Robert Simpson (1921-97)

Monday, August 16, 2021, Cadogan Hall, London

Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 1 o’clock

This lunchtime gig was tweeted into action by Haydn’s Opus 64/5 D-major String Quartet, a ‘Lark’ of a piece, the Marmen Quartet marching jovially and sweetly birdsong-ing the first movement’s charms. As part of a considered and collegiate rendition – one generous with repeats, including the first movement’s second half – the Marmen members took a spacious view of the contemplative Adagio cantabile, then danced their way through the quirky Minuet and Trio, and concluded with a display of admirable music-serving virtuosity in the fleet final movement.

In his centenary year it was good that BBC Proms recognised Robert Simpson (a composer-plus). His 1951, twenty-five-minute, two-movement, String Quartet No.1 (just fourteen more to go, Radio 3) owes to Haydn’s ‘Lark’ in music that is lyrically innocent at first and, then, in development, becomes energised and goal-seeking (will E-flat or A-major take precedence?); always rigorous, always compelling in the listening. There follows a palindromic theme (viola) and variations, rather Baroque to my mind, that give way to a double fugue and a serene coda. In this committed performance, such composerly intellect didn’t preclude outgoing and communicative music.

RELEASED TODAY, April 2: For Robert Simpson’s centenary on March 2, Lyrita has released his Fifth & Sixth Symphonies in their premiere performances.

Postscript: given the next few days’ Proms bill of fare doesn’t hold much appeal, I hope to return to penmanship when Simon Rattle conducts Stravinsky on Sunday