Today, we explored chamber works by Robert Simpson (1921-1997),
consisting of the “Sonata for Violin and Piano,” composed in 1984, and
his “Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano,” completed in 1989. These recordings
were made in 1993, and released under the Hyperion UK recording label
during 1995. Here, violinist Pauline Lowbury was joined by pianist
Christopher Green-Armytage for the Sonata, while the Trio was performed
by the Lowbury Piano Trio. For that performance, Ms. Lowbury was joined
by cellist Ursula Smith and pianist Elizabeth Burley.
The Sonata is in two movements, and like all of the other Simpson
compositions I’ve heard, it is tonal and constructed with a sure sense of
form. Simpson’s music is “absolute,” without any type of programmatic
intention. I can actually detect the spirit of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) in
the rapid 16th note figures, found in the first movement. Nielsen was the
subject of Simpson’s 1986 book, Carl Nielsen: Symphonist.
The 17-minute second movement consists of variations, followed by a
fugue-like Ricercare, providing yet another demonstration of Simpson’s
control of musical forms. The musical argument in both movements is
equally divided between the two instruments.
Simpson’s “Trio” opens with an austere melody by the violin, providing
thematic material for the following passages. The second movement is
a Vivace scherzo, in 2/4 time. The third movement begins with a
contemplative melody from the cello, followed by gentle piano chords.
I found the acceleration of tempi in the second-to-last variation to be
All four movements of this piece are played without a break, and the
finale opens with a fugue subject from the piano. After the theme has
been transferred repeatedly to the cello and violin, the contrapuntal
nature of this movement dissipates, and other areas of expression are
These fine performances also benefit from competent sound recording
practices. I suppose that these works could justify an “academic” label
for Robert Simpson, but careful listeners will be rewarded.