Fabulous review in Fanfare for Simaku’s new Naxos ‘Solos and Duos’ CD

Fanfare Magazine (USA) has given a glowing review of Thomas Simaku’s new CD on Naxos – Solos and Duos for violin and piano (Naxos 8.579035) in its Issue 43:3 (January/February 2020).  The reviewer, James H. North, begins by saying that it really is difficult to compare Thomas Simaku’s music to anything one has heard: ‘His music is so original that past experience fails.  How can one describe his music?  Simaku seems to create his own structure as he goes—the music reeks of impetuosity, as if he were dashing off the notes sequentially.’  North cites Scheuregger (Tempo 73 (290) pp. 40–50), Simaku’s former student, and Simaku himself, on Simaku’s upbringing under the repressive Stalinist regime in Albania, on international Modernist and Southern Albanian influences and on Simaku’s love of Hungarian composers Ligeti and Kurtág.

This leads us to a comparison to Bartok:  ‘Although I cannot cite specific examples, I do get a feeling of Bartók behind Simaku’s music: its intensity, its brilliant character, its sudden variety, its thrusts at virtuosity.  Perhaps the connection is amplified by suggestions of Balkan folk music. Scheuregger writes of Simaku’s ever-mounting joy at composing new works; it’s easy to hear that joy in his music.’  Speaking of Simaku’s extensive use of silences in his music, North states: ‘All of this would be useless if the music was anything less than fascinating, but Simaku consistently is.’ 

North continues, with compliments on individual works: ‘The playful Signals sparkles with gaiety and wit. Capriccioso challenges the violinist’s chops. My Beautiful Morea is an ancient Albanian folk song; its short melody “has not been altered, but has been extended, enriched in texture, and presented in different ways.” (Simaku, in his informative notes to this disc.) It is extremely moving.’  North comments that Simaku’s piece for solo tenor, doubling alto, recorder, Soliloquy V: Flauto Acerbo has sneaked into this disc somehow, and that the work calls for ‘extraordinary virtuosity; we could be in a tropical jungle ringing with bird calls and animal cries.’ 

Other pieces on the disc are ENgrREnage, short for Engrenage en Ré, which centres around D (Ré) and which Simaku effectively develops in a ‘variety of harmonic colours extracted from the total harmonic spectrum’, Sound Tree – Richard Robbins in Memoriam, Deux Esquisses, dedicated to Terry Holmes, and The Flight of the Eagle.  The reviewer writes: ‘These appear to be ideal performances; each is played by its dedicatee or its initial performers. Violinist Sheppard Skaerved produced the disc and painted the cover picture. The recordings, made at Simaku’s York University in 2016, use much reverberation but remain wonderfully lucid and alive.’  Performing on the disc, alongside Peter Sheppard Skaerved, are pianists are Roderick Chadwick and Joseph Houston, and recorder player Chris Orton.

North recommends equally strongly an earlier Naxos disc (8.570428) of Simaku quartets and other music for strings, which he reviewed in Fanfare 32:1.  North cannot imagine why it took other reviewers six years to discover and review in Fanfare 38:6, for they were as enthusiastic as he is.  He sums up: ‘There’s little doubt that Thomas Simaku is a contemporary master. One hopes that his music will get ever wider exposure—for our sake as well as his.’  We could not be more in agreement, and we congratulate Simaku, Naxos and the performers on this new and brilliant CD.  The whole review is available at ‘Fanfare Magazine Archive of CD Reviews’ and the CD may be purchased from Amazon, ArkivMusic and Presto Classical.

(9 Jan 2020)

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