Get Ready for Duo Della Luna!

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what a performanceBOTTI: Mangetsu. BARTÓK: 44 Duos for 2 Violins: Nos. 41, 28, 39, 43 & 42 (arr. for voice & violin by S. Botti). SAARIAHO: Changing Light. TRAD., arr. BOTTI: Wayfaring Stranger. Guards che bel serèn. El me murus el stà de là del Sère. DUSMAN: Triptych of Gossips / Duo Della Luna: Susan Botti, voc; Airi Yoshioki, vln / New Focus Recordings FCR305

From the blurb for this album:

As solo artists, Susan Botti (soprano/composer) and Airi Yoshioka (violin) have devoted their musical careers to new music. After performing together in various chamber settings, Airi commissioned Susan to write a work for just voice and violin, resulting in Botti’s Mangetsu. Realizing that there was a special spark when the music was stripped down to just their two voices intertwined, they formed Duo della Luna to explore this further. The duo has performed in the US, Canada and Italy.

And strange is the only word one can use to describe Mangetsu, a six-movement suite in which Botti’s mostly wordless vocals intertwine with and complement Yoshioki’s intense violin. One of the things that makes it interesting is that Botti’s voice is not lean and bright like the violin but warm and ambient, with a lot of overtones. It doesn’t sound like a large or powerful instrument, but she makes her presence felt in this intimate setting and she has good pitch, good diction in those passages when she sings words, and a decent upper range. She also doesn’t make it easy on herself by writing a vocal line that is essentially tonal and grateful to sing, but rather she sings mostly atonal lines, and by keeping the volume of her voice down (often singing in half voice), she is able to create an interesting ambience without ever overwhelming the violin, which has its own quite complex atonal lines to play against her. At times, the music toys with the contrast or blend of timbres as much as with the contrasting musical lines. Since they’ve worked together for a while now, they fully understand each other’s styles and performance methods.

Yoshioki and Botta

Yoshioki and Botta

Just as interesting, if not more so, is Botti’s arrangement of five pieces from Bela Bartók’s 44 Duos for 2 Violins for one violin and voice. There’s a certain strangeness that ensues from the transcription of the second violin part for a soprano that has to be heard to be fully appreciated.

My regular readers know what I’m not a big fan of Kaja Saariaho’s music, finding it more effect than substance, but Changing Light is a really fine piece with an interesting and well-developed structure that holds your attention. Perhaps its brevity (5:16) has something to do with that, but in any case it is one of the most gripping pieces on this disc.

Botti’s reimagined version of the old folk song Wayfaring Stranger is not only musically interesting but also deeply moving. In fact, there is something quite emotional going on in all of these pieces and performances, one might say a projection of deep feminine feelings. It is palpable but not very easy to put into words, but the sensitive listener will feel it. The sole exception to this, I felt, was Linda Dusman’s Triptych of Gossip, which seemed to me more of a tongue-in-cheek piece (with serious overtones) than one designed for emotional projection.

There is a certain feeling of timelessness about this recording, in two senses. First, the music itself, except for the Bartók pieces, seem to emerge from some timeless and unnamed ether in which is stored all the feelings of women throughout the centuries; and second, one feels as if time itself is suspended while listening to Duo Della Luna. They give you something that no other musicians, not even any other voice-violin combination I’ve ever heard, can bring you. Their performances touch the heart as well as the mind, and not in the simpering, artificial manner in which classical radio stations play old-fashioned musical pap for your “heart, mind and spirit.” This is truly spiritual music in a way that I’ve seldom heard in my entire life. And the feelings they evoke are deep, sensual, and sometimes painful, but always profoundly human.

You really need to hear this recording. There’s nothing else like it in the entire world.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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