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Critical Acclaim in Germany and USA for Thomas Simaku’s New Album

Simaku’s new album ‘con-ri-sonanza’, released by the Swedish label BIS Records in November 2020, continues to capture the attention of international music press. Following excellent reviews published in Germany (Das Klassik & Jazz Magazine), UK (Gramophone and the BBC Music Magazine) and France (Diapason), as well as broadcasts by France Musique, Portuguese National radio, and American Ecclectus radio in Seattle, a review has been published in the 1/2021 issue of the German magazine Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

Critic Egbert Hiller writes: ‘The Albanian-British composer Thomas Simaku is not very well known here in Germany, which is unfortunate, since his music is breathtakingly original, as his most recent CD illustrates.’

Another review has been published in the USA in the issue 44:5, May/June 2021 of the Fanfare Magazine written by James H. North. Here is the review in full:

'Albanian-British composer Thomas Simaku’s scores are populated with pianos and pianissimos, perhaps even more ps, sometimes verging on inaudibility—and below? It’s a well-known trick, focusing an audience’s attention and concentration, but with Simaku it comes across as natural, even essential. Within those apparent limitations, he creates a wide range of beauty that recalls György Kurtág, but with greater elegance, a word that best defines Simaku’s music. Listening to Simaku takes patience; although there are rapid passages, his music unfolds slowly—which further challenges our “little grey cells.” Yet it is not strictly intellectual music; it has color, it is deeply expressive. Of what? The composer writes explanations for each piece, but we don’t have to follow his reasoning. This is music of utmost seriousness that should satisfy the crustiest academic, yet for which the general listener need have no fear.

'That was written while listening to Catena I, a five-movement piano piece. The playing of pianist Joseph Houston is extraordinary; I can’t imagine how he retains such clear, bell-like tones at the bottom of the dynamic scale. One must add credits to his Steinway D and its technician, John Tordoff.

'The string quartets are a different matter; the same character, the same craftsmanship are in evidence, but some unique harmonic procedures may bother listeners with less open ears and minds. In the Fifth Quartet (2015), the four strings, in ensemble as well as individually, seem to float in space rather than facing each other on stage. The effect is even more pronounced on SACD; alas, my surround-sound capabilities are still impaired. The Fourth Quartet (2010–11) is more conventional. Heard by itself, it is another convincing Simaku work, but coming last, as it does here, its four movements and two interludes seem more ponderous than the effervescent Fifth.

'Con-ri-sonanza (which is also the title of this disc) stands for “consonanza, risonanza, con risonanza,” “sonic qualities” that permeate all the works on this disc. It is a 13-minute, single movement piano quintet; both the piano part and the string writing are more aggressive than in the other works here, with a greater dynamic tessitura. The two elements converse, sometimes casually, sometimes in argument, even laughing together. Occasionally, one or the other strikes out on its own, only to find its way home again. The qualities we expect from piano quintets throughout history are fully represented, yet the work retains the elemental, thoughtful Simaku persona.

'L’image oubliée d’après Debussy was written in 2018, to an odd commission: “Choose a piece by Debussy, quote it for a minute or so, and continue in [one’s] own style—easier said than done.” Composer and pianist create some beautifully articulated arpeggios. For Hommage à Kurtág, Simaku abandons pianissimos, but his Kurtág is like Ansermet’s Stravinsky: softer and warmer than the original.

'These gorgeous BIS recordings were made at the University of York in December 2019, under the composer’s supervision; the performances are all one would expect.'

James H. North

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