Friday 5 August 2022

Vox in Bestia: Laura Catrani uses solo voice to explore Dante's animals with music from three contemporary Italian composers

Vox in Bestia: Gli animali della divina commedia - Fabrizio de Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini, Alessandro Solbiati; Laura Catrani; Stradivarius
Vox in Bestia: Gli animali della divina commedia - Fabrizio de Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini, Alessandro Solbiati; Laura Catrani; Stradivarius
Reviewed 1/8/2022 (★★★)

Italian soprano Laura Catrani explores the beasts Dante's Divine Comedy via music written for her solo voice by three contemporary Italian composers, to dazzling, virtuosic and challenging effect

Luciano Berio's Sequenza III, written in 1965 for soprano Cathy Berberian, helped define a whole genre of unaccompanied vocal work that used the voice's many other expressive modes besides singing. Berberian would create her own response to this in 1966 with Stripsody, an equally virtuoso work but one that merged virtuosic onomatopoeic sounds with ideas from comic strips.

As a young student at the Conservatoire in Milan, soprano Laura Catrani studied Berio's Sequenza III and it soon became her piece de resistance [see her performance on YouTube] and she has continued to explore and expand the solo voice repertoire. Her Vox in Femina project from 2010 brought together some of the great 20th-century and contemporary composers.

Laura Catrani's Vox in Bestia project arose out of lockdown, and has now been issued on the Stradivarius label. In it, Catrani brings together three works written for her by Fabrizio De Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini and Alessandro Solbiato, each of which takes texts from Dante as their basis.

Laura Catrani has been very much associated with the music of modern and 20th century composers and her performances have included contemporary operas by a variety of composers including two on this disc, Alessandro Solibiati (Leggenda and Il suono giallo) and Matteo Franceschini (Il gridario and Forést).

The texts for the three works on this disc all mention animals, both real and fabulous, so the resulting disc is a modern take on a Medieval bestiary and helped celebrate the Dante anniversary last year. Catrani commissioned the poet Tiziano Scarpa to create his own poetic commentary on Dante's verses, and a live performance involves Catrani singing the music by the three contemporary composers, Scarpa reciting his verses and music from Dante's time on lute solo.

This disc is something of a distillation, 15 tracks representing three groups of five. Fabrizio De Rossi Re's Vox in bestia - Interno which deals with 'The Three Beasts', 'Flies, Wasps, Worms', 'Starlings, Cranes and Turtle Doves', 'Cerberus' and 'The She-Mastiffs'. Matteo Franceschini's Vox in bestia - Purgatorio which deals with 'The Falcons', 'The Curs', 'The Lamb of God', 'The Bee', and 'The Little Stork'. Alessandro Solbiati's Animalia - Paradiso which deals with 'The Eagle', 'The Adder', 'The Bird', 'The Lamb', and 'The Pelican'.

Vox in Bestia: Gli animali della divina commedia - Fabrizio de Rossi Re, Matteo Franceschini, Alessandro Solbiati; Laura Catrani; Stradivarius
Catrani begins each movement with a recitation of the Dante text, and throughout the pieces mix spoken and vocalisation. De Rossi Re combines the various styles of vocalisation together in a busy and vivid manner, requiring Catrani to create a vocal tour-de-force, and behind much of his writing there is the suggestion of jazz influence (De Rossi Re's background mixes classical and jazz training). Matteo Franceschini is the youngest of the composers on the disc, and he studied both with his father and with Alessandro Solbiati (the third composer on the disc). Franceschini's style here is perhaps more considered, and certainly he makes a great use of silence, but the vocal control required is still dazzling. Solbiati seems to favour vocalisation over non-vocalised sounds, thus creating a very effective contrast between the three groups of pieces.

But what comes over strongly is their commonality, as each explores what it means to evoke Dante's iconic text in music and vocalisation, as well as their desire to write music that fits Catrani's personality. And it is Laura Catrani who links all the music together, performing with dazzling technique, amazing virtuosity in the way she can turn on a pin and move instantly from one form of vocalisation to another, and her incredible commitment to the artistic process.

For all the musical virtues here, it is a very text-based project, not only do the ideas from Dante's texts thread their way through the music, but the very texts themselves are part of the musical discourse. For someone unable to appreciate Dante in the original, this can prove something of a barrier, and I suspect that a familiarity with Dante in the original will facilitate another level of appreciation in this fascinating and challenging project.

The Cd booklet includes images by Gianluidi Toccafono which come from the video created to accompany the project and which seem to add an element of imaginative humour to the whole.

Vox in Bestia: Gli animali della Divina Commedia
Fabrizio De Rossi Re (born 1960) -  Vox in bestia: Inferno (2021)
Matteo Franceschini (born 1979) - Vox in bestia: Purgatorio (2021)
Alessandro Solbiati (born 1956) - Animalia: Paradiso
Laura Catrani (soprano)
Recording: Chiesa di San Giuseppe ai Piani, Bolzano, 2-3 August 2021

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