Robert Simpson Symphonies 5 & 6 – worth a listen

I first became aware of Robert Simpson through The Symphony. This two-volume work, edited by Simpson, was a collection of essays about the great symphonists and their music. Simpson not only knew how to write about symphonies, he knew how to write them.

This release features two of his eleven symphonies, both dating from the 1970s. These performances are taken from BBC broadcasts. Although the sound is somewhat in soft-focus, it’s still quite good and didn’t detract from my listening experience.

Simpson’s 1972 Symphony No. 5 was commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra. This recording is of the work’s first performance in May 1973. Andrew Davis conducts the LSO, unleashing the full power of the orchestra. The result is electrifying, especially the opening movement.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned Simpson’s next symphony. The performance presented here is by the LPO, although not the premiere. Rather, it’s from an April 1980 broadcast, conducted by Charles Groves. It’s an assured performance, delivered by an ensemble well familiar with the piece.

One contemporary critic suggested this was a “Pastorale symphony for the 20th Century.” There may be some detectible Beethoven influences, but I think that’s a stretch. Rather, Simpson simply builds a sound world out of some very basic motivic elements.

Two symphonies — and two performances — I’m very glad I heard.

Robert Simpson: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6
London Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Davis, conductor
London Philharmonic Orchestra; Charles Groves, conductor

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