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)

Recent news

  • Sadie Harrison is Composer-in-Residence for SOUNDSTORM Composition Project 2020

    Here at UYMP, we are delighted that Sadie Harrison has been appointed as this year’s Composer-in-Residence for the Schools Compose Quartets Project 2020 with SOUNDSTORM and the Asana String Quartet (drawn from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). SoundStorm is the award winning Music Education Development Agency for the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation, in South West England. Sadie will be working alongside students from Leaf Studio and The Bishop of Winchester Academy, composing quartets to be performed in July 2020.

  • Hughes' new Metier CD - 'Time, Space & Change'

    Ed Hughes’s new CD Time, Space & Change will be released on Metier on 13 March 2020. The CD will be launched at a special event in Lewes on Saturday 7 March featuring a 30' showing of Cesca Eaton’s beautiful film ‘Cuckmere: A Portrait' with Ed’s evocative score recorded live by the Orchestra of Sound and Light at the Brighton Festival 2018, followed by a Q&A with Ed Hughes, film maker Cesca Eaton, the President of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park, chaired by writer and musician Eleanor Knight. 

    Tickets are available from Trybooking: https://www.trybooking.co.uk/POF .

  • Release of UYMP’s New Choral Volume – ‘Anthems for Sopranos, Altos and Unison Male Singers: 10 anthems for the church year’

    Here at UYMP, we are exceedingly pleased to announce the release of our new volume of choral works for sopranos, altos and unison male singers which has been published by The Royal School of Church Music (RSCM).

  • GEMINI COMMISSION FOR SADIE HARRISON PREMIERES AT LATE MUSIC YORK

    Ian Mitchell (clarinet/clapsticks), Caroline Balding (viola/clapsticks) and members of Gemini (reciters/percussion) will give the premiere of Fire in Song by Sadie Harrison on 2 May 2020 as part of the Late Music York Series, at the Unitarian Chapel, York. Fire in Song tells the creation story about fire for the Yolngu group of Aboriginal Australians who live primarily in north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. The work was written during the catastrophic bush fires that swept much of Australia in 2019-2020. It reflects on the Aboriginal approach to the fires, one that remained largely ignored in news coverage at the time.

  • Viner wins the STR Music Composition Prize at York with new work 'The Annunciation'

    UYMP is delighted that Frederick Viner has won the University of York Music Department's STR Music Composition Prize, with his new piece The Annunciation for SATB divisi.  The prize is sponsored by Sean Rourke.  The Annunciation, the only work to be announced in an otherwise 'mystery' concert programme, was premiered by The 24, directed by Robert Hollingworth, in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall on February 19th 2020, at 7.30pm.  Besides Viner's premiere, the carefully-planned programme spanned some fascinating works from the 16th to the 20th centuries.  More details at York Concerts.  Many congratulations to Fred!