Release date: 29 September 2023
Since Thomas Simaku (b.1958) began composing his cycle of Soliloquys in 1998, the series has grown to encompass every instrumental family of the orchestra. The objective of these works is to delve into and examine the expressive and technical characteristics of each instrument, producing highly virtuosic, idiosynchratic music. Solo, Simaku's fourth full-length album and first album release on NMC, showcases some of the composer's most recent solo works, each one reaching a depth of expression beyond what seems possible with a single instrument.
Simaku's music has been praised for its 'depth of expression, and powerful imagination' (British Composer Award), and his unique blend of lyricism and complex modernity can be traced back to a pivotal moment in the composer's life; when he moved from the restrictive, highly-censored Stalinist Albania of his upbringing, to the UK in 1991. His studies with David Blake at the University of York (where he is now a Professor of Composition himself) were an awakening for the composer, as he was immersed in the music of modernist pioneers such as Ligeti, Kurtág, and Boulez. In the years since, Simaku's free exploration of these ideas has led him to carving out a 'breathtakingly original’ compositional voice (Neue Zeitschrift für Musik), which has won him numerous prestigious awards, including the first prize in the International Competition for Lutoslwaski's 100th Birthday in 2013.
Which better musicians to explore every corner of their instrument's potentialities than the soloists of Ensemble intercontemporain? Founded in 1976 by Pierre Boulez with the support of Nicholas Snowman and Michel Guy, the musicians of the resident ensemble at the Philharmonie de Paris are some of the most highly-regarded soloists in the world.
The opening track, Soliloquy VII for clarinet and resonant piano, hears the piece's dedicatee, clarinetist Jérôme Comte, displaying the unparalleled versatility and dynamic range of his instrument, the 'vocal' qualities of its sound enhanced by the resonant chamber of the piano into which he plays. Catena II, performed by pianist Dimitri Vassilakis, is a journey into the spiralling colours, gestures and dynamics possible on the piano, in six distinct movements that Simaku conceptualises of as a 'chain'.
Percussionist Aurélien Gignoux brings to life Soliloquy VIII for marimba plus, in which Simaku aimed to 'treat the marimba as if it were an orchestra with a huge range of colours and a number of individual lines constantly interacting with one another.' In his composition of the delicate muted sections, menacing pitch bending, and bell-like resonances of Soliloquy IX for trumpet and resonant piano, Simaku conceived of the trumpet as part of a 'resonating canvas', brought to life by soloist Clément Saunier. The album is concluded by Catena III – Corona, Simaku's personal reflection on the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, heard here in tumultuous syncopated figures and gloomy, lyrical moments.
Soloists of Ensemble intercontemporain:
Jérôme Comte clarinet
Dimitri Vassilakis piano
Aurélien Gignoux percussion
Clément Saunier trumpet
"These works from the last four years are played by their dedicatees, who completely inhabit the music, technically and musically [...] a powerful musical imagination shines throughout the album." Performance ★★★★★, Recording ★★★★★ BBC Music Magazine
"Thomas Simaku has a highly individual musical voice and his sensitive, inventive scores command attention and repay repeated hearings. Superbly recorded and produced, this NMC release is heartily recommended." ★★★★★ Musical Opinion
"Visionary, virtuoso, vibrant. [These works] bring out the expressive and technical specificities of the instrument, to deepen them to the point of drawing up a detailed identity card, as complete as possible, a detailed, virtuoso idiosyncratic musical portrait and nonetheless free from excessive formalism." Crescendo Magazine
"Comte’s performance is astounding, exploding into paroxysms at either end of the clarinet’s register, then retreating and gently wooing us with barely-there tremolando." Gramophone
"Here, the ensemble's soloists take center stage in music by composer Thomas Simaku often requiring virtuoso talent but beautifully written for the instruments involved." ★★★★ All Music
"There is, as in all of the Albanian composer's music, a voice which is sophisticated but clear, without pretense." ★★★★★ Diapason
This recording project was made possible by a grant from the University of York and support from the School of Arts and Creative Technologies (University of York), Ensemble intercontemporain and Diaphonique – a London-based Franco-British fund for classical contemporary music.
Soliloquy VII was recorded at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, on 26 June 2020.
BEN EYES Recording Engineer & Producer
Soliloquy VIII & XI and Catena II & III were recorded at Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, between 25-27 June 2022.
DAVID LEFEBER Recording Engineer & Producer
DAVID LEFEBER Mastering
Release date 29 September 2023
Catalogue no: NMCD278