Duo della Luna (Susan Botti, soprano/composer; Airi Yoshioka, violin) releases Mangetsu, centered around the multi-movement title piece that Botti wrote that catalyzed the duo's formation. Botti's sensual setting of otherworldly texts is contrasted with her inventive arrangements of Bartók's famous violin duos that excavate original folk song texts, as well as the iconic American song, "Wayfaring Stranger," and two Italian traditional songs. Kaija Saariaho's Changing Light and Linda Dusman's Triptych of Gossips round out this collection that features the duo’s seamlessly integrated and balanced ensemble style through text settings that point to the timeless link between song and text in folkloric traditions.
|04||The Stolen Child|
The Stolen Child
|05||You told me|
You told me
44 Duos for 2 ViolinsBéla Bartók
|09||Serbian Dance (#39)|
Serbian Dance (#39)
|11||Arabian Dance (#42)|
Arabian Dance (#42)
|14||Triptych of Gossips|
Triptych of Gossips
Two Italian Folk SongsTraditional
|15||Guarda che bel serèn|
Guarda che bel serèn
|16||El me murus el stà de là del Sère|
El me murus el stà de là del Sère
The voice and violin duo Duo della Luna (Susan Botti and Airi Yoshioka, respectively) brings a remarkable versatility and integrated ensemble approach to a rarefied instrumental combination. Both musicians take advantage of their impressive range to broaden the scope of expressive possibilities within this duo formation. On Mangetsu, that range is in full bloom, from Botti’s fluid text delivery in different languages and vocal styles to both performers’ virtuosic navigation of extended techniques and gymnastic passagework. Throughout, the duo is engaged in a intertwined dialogue between the two players, always balanced elegantly, with each fulfilling an equal and essential role in the musical texture. Their sensitive performances are captured in a sensual recording by Grammy award winning engineer and recording industry luminary Todd Whitelock.
Susan Botti’s Mangetsu sets three texts that explore the mystery of the moon by Izumi Shikibu, William Butler Yeats, and Antoine de St.-Exupéry. Connecting these movements are mellifluous, wordless songs (“mangetsu”). The first opens in a delicate halo of sound, as if from afar, and the violin gently follows the contour of the searching vocal line as if performing a ritual dance. A Bartók pizzicato, quick tremolando, and sighing gesture in the violin signals the opening of “From Darkness,” a nocturnal setting sprinkled throughout with lithe vocal melismas. The short third movement is wordless again, replacing the imitative texture of the opening movement with a two voiced texture that suggests harmonic motion. “The Stolen Child” begins with the work’s most vigorous music, opening with a virtuosic violin passage of arpeggios and double stops. A playful section grounded by repeated pizzicati in the violin follows, as the text evolves from a youthful moonlight excursion to unsettling mystery. “You told me” begins rhapsodically, again with violin alone, before the soprano line joins with plaintive, lyrical lines, and the ominous repeated notes from the previous movement return to end the song. The final “mangetsu” is expansive, as Yoshioka’s double stops frame Botti’s poignant phrasing, imbued with powerful expressive meaning despite the absence of text.Read More
For her arrangement of selections from Béla Bartók’s famous set of 44 Duos for Two Violins, Botti alternates between referencing the folk texts from the songs from which Bartók borrowed material and wordless texts, drawing a powerful connection to the rich traditional source. For “Serbian Dance” and “Arabian Dance,” Botti adopts a multi-syllabic sonic palette, character variations, and subtle ornaments to further enliven the original instrumental lines.
Kaija Saariaho’s Changing Light revels in contrasts in dialogue with one another. The text “light and darkness” and “night and day” is sung on one static pitch while the violin plays arpeggiated figures that float through registers. When the text switches to “we marvel at the mystery of the stars,” the vocal part leaps into the high register outlining several intervals while the violin remains stable on a trill. This balancing out of complementary energies unfolds throughout the piece. The line, “as you renew time,” finishes off the work, sung several times, first solo, and then with a series of shimmering double stop trills in the violin.
Botti’s arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger” takes on the hue of the blues, albeit through a cloudy prism. The violin part hints at characteristic blues fragments, circling around the more straightforward vocal line with improvisatory freedom, occasionally landing on surprising momentary pitch confluences. The final line, “I am just going over home,” is nonetheless unresolved, destabilized by a seesawing figure in the violin that subverts harmonic closure.
Linda Dusman’s Triptych of Gossips sets poetry by Serena Hilsinger of the same name that engages with groups of threes through a proto-feminist lens. “Incantation” opens with airy violin harmonics before the soprano enters with a series of vocal effects over a brittle arpeggio. The texture is fragmentary, cutting between surprising sounds on a dime and building a sonic vocabulary. Hinsliger’s text enters with a flowing line in the violin, also organized primarily in a triple meter. In “Invocation,” Botti’s delivery turns to colorful sprechstimme, as unpredictable punctuations of scratch tones and over-pressure figures in the violin keep the material off-balance. The final phrases are heard in rhythmic unison, the violin and voice tracking each other in maudlin lockstep. The last section, “Convocation,” is the work’s most conventional setting, with flowing, impetuous violin passages. At the work’s climax, the soprano’s forceful lines lead up to a high arrival over searing open string fifths in the violin.
The album closes with two Italian songs from Northern Italy arranged by Botti. In both, the connection to the original tradition is elegantly preserved with stylistic ornamentation in the vocal performance while the violin part embellishes the melody and creates a multi-dimensional conversation between source material and a contemporary concert context. The final song is playfully joyful, capturing the lightheartedness of simple love. The two songs are a fitting close for an album that prizes balancing diverse text sources, aesthetic orientations, and creative ways of approaching the duo instrumentation, all performed with symbiotic grace by Duo della Luna.
– Dan Lippel
Recorded 11-13 October, 2019 at the Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)
Recording, Balance, & Mastering Engineer: Todd Whitelock
Editing Engineer: Teng Chen
Associate Producers: Susan Botti and Airi Yoshioka
Associate Producer: Todd Whitelock
UMBC recording studio manager: Alan Wonneberger
Recording Assistant: Jacob Wilkinson
Cover art: Sajo no sora (“Sky above the Dunes”) by Motori Yoshioka
Photo p. 4: Linda Dusman
Photos p 20-22: © Davide Dell'Agostino
Design & layout: Marc Wolf, marcjwolf.com
Funded (in part) by: CIRCA, UMBC; Louise Boyd Dale Fund, Vassar College
Thank you to: Avaloch Farm, Linda Dusman/UMBC, Lucy Shelton, Motori and Nobuaki Yoshioka
As solo artists, Susan and Airi 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. Given the unusual vocal/instrumental combination, it was natural that their individual devotion to contemporary works would continue as a duo. Their repertoire celebrates the natural world, myth, story-telling, and folk songs... for their universal, timeless messages.
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.
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 Kaija 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.
— Lynn René Bayley, 7.11.2021