RECORDS / Following the godfathers: Stephen Johnson and Edward Seckerson review Simpson and Matthews

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SIMPSON: Symphonies Nos 2, 4 - Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Vernon Handley

(Hyperion CDA 66505)

'ENERGY is eternal delight' - Blake's words could stand as a motto over the blazing, elemental dance-finale of Robert Simpson's Fourth Symphony. The same energy propels the Fourth's huge scherzo, only there it shows its destructive side, boiling and churning in its outer sections. Against this are long stretches of quiet, contemplative music: the outer sections of the Fourth's Andante, or the marvellous winding-down of the Second Symphony's central Largo. Vast starscapes come to mind, but the essence is the inner peace these meditations uncover - perhaps the deepest manifestation of Simpson's indebtedness to Beethoven.

I can't imagine a better introduction to this utterly original British symphonist. There is a Nielsen-like charm in the first movement of the Second, while many of the surprising twists in the Fourth recall Haydn - not in style, but in the obvious delight with which they are contrived, Performances are magnificent: Vernon Handley and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are well grounded in Simpson's language, and it shows. The Wessex Hall acoustic is on the generous side, but the recording tames it well. SJ

BEETHOVEN may be his spiritual godfather but Nielsen is the power at Simpson's elbow throughout the earlier of these symphonies. It's the single-mindedness, the determination - life-affirming, even under duress; it's the battling timpani, the morse-coded spareness of the melodic writing with its sudden lyric flowerings. All gestures go towards generating energy: this is music that enjoys its arguments. But the real revelations come with the mighty Fourth Symphony. A brief visit to the 'nursery' of Nielsen's Sixth Symphony brings on the fantastic and fearful imaginings of childhood, so deftly scored as to be almost intangible. The scherzo is like Beethoven Nine powering into the 20th century: a quote from Haydn drifts in blissful ignorance through the minefield of a trio. Then, seemingly from nowhere, an unforgettable cello melody, a slow movement of transient, mystical evolutions - fascinating, unpredictable. But always this music has a past and a future: the finale's fierce lust for life is awesome, the incandescent coda as inevitable as the outcome of nuclear fission. At least it is in this gripping performance. ES

DAVID MATTHEWS: Cantiga. September Music. Introit. MAHLER / MATTHEWS: Seven

Early Songs - Jill Gomez, Bournemouth Sinfonietta / John Carewe (Unicorn-Kanchana DKP 9120)

LIKE Robert Simpson, David Matthews sees European tradition as source of inspiration, not as an enemy to be engaged with or - still worse - an irrelevance. But Matthews emerges from his explorations as a very modern kind of romantic, passionately personal in his expressions, but at the same time critical, ironic - acutely conscious of his artistic position. No surprise that Mahler is one his musical gods.

The main Matthews work here is Cantiga, an intense song of love with a macabre twist at the end. There are some haunting, stirring orchestral ideas, and the vocal writing strikes me as much more expressive and memorable than when I first heard it at the 1988 Proms, and yet I still find myself wishing that the lines would take off - sustained flight rather than the enhanced recitative that prevails to the end. In the shorter pieces, lyricism flowers uninhibitedly, especially in Introit, with its sinuous, aspiring solo string lines and singing trumpets. The Mahler scorings work well, and Jill Gomez is on majestic form. Why don't we hear more of her? SJ

DAVID and his younger brother Colin Matthews were both 'children of Mahler', assisting Deryck Cooke on his performing version of the Tenth Symphony, and jointly orchestrating these Seven Early Songs - that's before so much as a note of their own music had been published. But this is no slavish imitation of the 'Mahler sound': it is the little inauthenticities that really tweak the ear and the imagination. Jill Gomez sings them with an enriching fullness of character: she inhabits texts, she enacts them.

With that knowledge, Matthews fashioned Cantiga - a heady, unashamedly ripe piece of postMahleriana where even the cliches come out fighting. 'Dramatic Scena' it most certainly is, the voice very much the key player - sensuous among arabesque-festooned woodwinds, fragrant in ascents to 'damask petals', plunging down the octaves to 'banishment' and 'hell'. It's high time Gomez returned to the operatic stage. The other Matthews pieces similarly rejoice in a timeless, highly communicative romanticism - familiar sonorities skilfully, expressively recycled. The aura of soft, shifting harmonies from a quartet of horns tells you exactly where September is headed, the glowing Introit reaches upwards from terra firma to a coda of trumpet fanfares that Britten and Tippett both might have taken pride in. One or two frayed edges in the instrumental ensemble of Cantiga, but otherwise vivid in sound and performance. ES

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