The multinational Alex Simu Quintet is comprised of Alex on clarinets, Franz von Chossy on piano, George Dumitriu on viola, Mattia Magatelli on double bass and Kristijan Krajncan on drums and cello. For much of this concert Alex played a bass clarinet that was as tall as him and looked mighty impressive.
This was the last event in the Europalia Romania Arts Festival in London. The show was entitled ‘Echoes of Enescu’ and they played two long sequences of forty-five minutes each with an intermission in the middle. After the first set, Alex explained that they’d just played an overture, a saraband and, I think, a jig as a tribute to Romanian violinist, pianist and composer George Enescu (1881-1955) adding that it was, ‘A humble sign of appreciation of what he left us.’ There were no stage announcements about the second piece but presumably this was also another adaptation of Enescu’s work. It would have been nice to hear some of their excellent new album Echoes of Bucharest, which also contains some Enescu themes, but this wasn’t part of the programme. The first set began with bass clarinet, cello, violin, double bass and piano all together and after that there were multivarious combinations of instruments as the tempo quickened and slowed down again, flowing like the wind. When they all played together, they really soared. I was particularly impressed by Kristijan’s drumming. He used sticks, brushes, mallets and his hands to achieve different tones from his kit. Being a cellist and a drummer in the same concert is an interesting combination and at one point, Kristijan beat his cello like a drum. Alex also produced a percussive sound from his clarinet while Franz plucked the strings of his piano during one sequence. Mattia also drummed on his instrument at one point. George played with a bow and occasionally in a pizzicato style, so they were all keen to get the most out of their instruments. When George played a solo Alex stood and watched him intently.
Around a hundred and twenty-five people were in the audience but at the break the other five people in my pew left and more than a few others elsewhere did too. This was very serious music and despite the high quality of the performance, the whole evening was all a bit too solemn for me with hardly any noticeable physical reaction from the audience – apart from myself and one other person who was also getting into the drumming. There was loud applause at the end of each set and the group took three bows. I’d never been to a gig in a church before and, not surprisingly, the sound quality was very good indeed. There was also wine at £5 a glass and it wasn’t of the holy variety.
The Alex Simu Quintet’s latest album Echoes of Bucharest is now available on CD.
You can find out more information about the group on their Facebook page as well as on www.alexsimu.nl
Thanks to Sebastian Merrick among others for arranging the Europalia Romania Arts Festival.