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Thomas SIMAKU (b. 1958)
Voci Celesti – String Quartet No.3 (2004) [12:57]
Due Sollo-Voci per violino solo (2003)a [13:39]
Soliloquy I (1998)a [10:10]
Soliloquy II (2001)b [12:52]
Soliloquy III (2002)c [11:26]
Radius – String Quartet No.2 (2003) [13:29]
Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skćrved (violin)a; Mihailo Trandafilovski (violin); Morgan Goff (viola)c; Neil Heyde (cello)b)
rec. Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, 18-20 December 2006
NAXOS 8.570428 [74:34]
Experience Classicsonline

I was made aware of Thomas Simaku’s name and music when his Luxonorité (2001) was one of the six works chosen for the finals of the 2002 Luxembourg Sinfonietta International Composition Prize; Nicholas Sackman was another finalist. The live recording of the piece is still available on LGNM No.402 ( Since then I have been wondering what his other works may be like. This well-filled release provides a generous answer, since no less than six substantial chamber works are now available in excellent performances and recordings. The pieces here were composed between 1998 and 2004 so that one may now have a fair idea of what his recent output sounds like.
Albanian-born Thomas Simaku graduated from the Tirana Conservatory and gained a doctorate in composition at the University of York where he studied with David Blake. Later he was the 1996 Leonard Bernstein Fellow in Composition at Tanglewood studying with Bernard Rands and a fellow at the Composers’ Workshop at California State University with Brian Ferneyhough. He is now a lecturer in composition at the University of York. In his insert notes the composer mentions that after his studies in Tirana, he worked for three years as Music Director in a remote town in Southern Albania where he has some working association with folk musicians. He believes that this has had a lasting influence on his music-making. This does not mean that his music is folk-inflected in a direct and superficial way neither that it might be compared to, say, Bartók’s imaginary folklore. It nevertheless retains some characteristic features of Albanian folk music such as microtone inflections, drones and quasi-improvisational elements, which can be heard in all the pieces recorded here.
Two recent string quartets open and close this release entirely devoted to chamber works for string instruments, of which Soliloquy I for solo violin is the earliest. This was followed by Soliloquy II for solo cello and Soliloquy III for solo viola. Although written at intervals these three independent works make an instrumental cycle of interlinked pieces. The real interconnection between the pieces might appear clearly through some close analysis, which is not the point here. Neither am I equipped to carry out such analysis. Suffice to say that these works explore the technical and expressive range of their respective instruments in much the same way as Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin, Jolivet’s Suite Rhapsodique, Berio’s Sequenza VIII and many other such works. The music is extremely demanding in terms of playing technique, but never gratuitously so. Technical virtuosity is just part of the composer’s means to achieve his expressive aims. Melody, too, is rarely absent and the central sections of all the works here remain essentially melodic. The pieces comprising the Soliloquy Cycle and the Duo Sotto-Voci (also for solo violin) are best described, I think, as free fantasies exploring a wide range of moods and expressions in a remarkably imaginative manner.
Although obviously from the same pen and sharing a number of common characteristics, the two string quartets recorded here are nevertheless different. Radius – String Quartet No.2 was completed in 2003 and, like its successor, Voci Celesti – String Quartet No.3 composed in 2004, is in a single movement albeit falling into various contrasting sections played without a break. In much the same way as in the pieces for solo stringed instruments, the music explores varied moods and emotions while exploiting the full expressive potential of the medium. Radius is the finest work here and the most readily accessible, probably because emphasis is more on melody than on anything else, although the music has its more animated sections. On the other hand, the music of Voci Celesti displays a wider palette including some spectral harmonies, although these are never overdone. The constant characteristic in these and the other works is that the music never rambles but unfolds according to some ineluctable inner logic. This results in tightly knit structures so that the works rarely outstay their welcome.
The works recorded here confirm my early impressions when I first heard some of Simaku’s music. Here is a composer who obviously has things to say and who knows how to say them best. His music may be complex and demanding, particularly so on the players’ part, but it is ultimately rewarding, which this generously filled release confirms. The only reservation that I may have concerning this otherwise excellent disc is that the Second String Quartet should have been placed first, were it only because it is the most accessible work here. So, if you have never heard any of Simaku’s music and are interested in giving it a try, I suggest that you start with the Second String Quartet.
This is a very fine release that is well worth investigating. I hope now that Naxos will soon record some of Simaku’s orchestral and ensemble music.
Hubert Culot

see also review by Bob Briggs



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