Frank Kämpfer (translated by Mark Hutchinson)
Thomas Simaku's CD was recently reviewed on Die Neue Platte programme of Deutschlandradio in Cologne. Here Mark Hutchinson translates the article, Avantgarde und Ethnologie vereint, by its music editor-in-chief Frank Kämpfer.
Avantgarde and ethnology combined - Compositions from East and South-East Europe
[Thomas Simaku, Due Sotto-Voci, CD NAXOS 8.570428, LC 05537, Take 02]
Pointillist in its concentration or copiously expansive - expressive versus frail and delicate - sometimes clear, present and immediate, and sometimes like noise, coming out of three-dimensional space and as if from another age. It is barely conceivable that two voices, accompanying and contrasting one another, and each laden with different associations, are both played by one and the same bow. Thomas Simaku calls his Due Sotto-Voci per Violino Solo a 'song with accompaniment' - he sees the string instrument as a singer who can sing in two distinct voices.
Anyone from the Balkans who is familiar with the still active folk music tradition there knows what voices are capable of. Simaku was born in Albania in 1958 and undertook intensive ethnomusicological studies in the south, near the Greek border, at the start of the 80s. Like a substrate from that time, musical traces from that same region can be found in his recent works. Not, however, in the form of crude, picture-postcard clichés and quotations, but in a far more structural manner - as an aesthetic possibility, as the never-ending attempt to unify the avant-garde and the ethnic, and in this way to find a personal compositional language.
The two string quartets and the four pieces for solo strings which are brought together in Simaku's first Naxos CD point in this direction. Simaku's idiom combines avant-gardism and modality in a manner all its own. Sheer noise and quarter-tone scales intermingle to create wholly unique colours. The London-based Kreutzer Quartet bring these textures most enchantingly to life, whether in the form of the three soliloquies - which take hold of the three quartet instruments in turn, with plentiful interconnections between them - or the quartets, which draw, for example, on the ancient Balkan musical technique of bourdon. This model, passed down from southern Albanian folk music, is characterised by long sustained notes, above or below which rich melismas unfold. These can be seen, for example, in Simaku's String Quartet no. 2, from 2003. The title 'Radius' refers to the linear momentum of the work as well as the extremely powerful manoeuvres which disturb and disrupt it.
[Thomas Simaku, Radius. String Quartett Nr. 2, CD NAXOS 8.570428, LC 05537 Take 06]
An excerpt from the String Quartet No. 2, 'Radius', by Thomas Simaku - recorded in December 2006 in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall of the University of York with the London-based Kreutzer Quartet. This and other works by the Albanian-English composer can be found on a new CD from the label Naxos - a further CD of orchestral music would be an ideal follow-up to this.