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Claire Deak ~ Sotto Voce

Written by on 08.10.2023

Claire Deak first appeared on our site with the old capital, a 2020 collaboration with Tony Dupé that was released on nearly the same date as Sotto Voce.  Like that album, this one seems well-suited for October.  Deak again plays over a dozen instruments, and Sotto Voce is billed as a solo album, although Dupé is again present, along with four additional collaborators.

The difference is that this is clearly Deak’s vision: an occasionally speculative and consistently imaginative dive into the music of Baroque composers Francesca Caccini (1587-c.1645) and Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677), built on a musculature of “musical traces.”  Fleshing out their work, Deak makes the most of the available notation and instrumentation, putting a modern spin on their music and resurrecting their names.

“O Vive Rose” starts with a tuning before confident momentum, perhaps a metaphor for Caccini’s own journey ~ or even Deak’s.  One thing is certain: this doesn’t sound like music written in 1618.  Despite the presence of period instruments these are not note-for note recreations; transducers and tape manipulation guarantee a modern sheen.  Instead, this is the present seeking connection with the past, the past yearning to be heard.  “Liberated Sighs” is a particularly meaningful title, and includes a backdrop of female voice, as if Strozzi were singing a distant greeting from 1664.  “In Defense of Time,” a drone piece, utilizes static as a mystical element, a communication or a conjuring.  The blurred cover photo is yet another symbol: a face that cannot quite be seen on a body clearly in motion.  Strozzi once had more secular music in print than any living composer; Caccini wrote “at least sixteen stage works,” but only one survives.  How can such things occur?

“Queen of the Senses” (Serenata)” is like a snow globe of music, the snow replaced by suspended dust.  The fragments form a song, while the individual parts, including wordless voice, waft into the rafters.  The track titles “The Fading Lovers” and “A Million Cloaked Ghosts” suggest historical abrasion, while the music – drone and static, voice and string – approaches hauntology in timbre.  And yet, this is a good haunting, less a seance than a reviving.

The phrase sotto voice means a quiet voice, so as not to be overheard.  Sotto voice is a direction in music: a sublimated sound.  Yet Deak’s voice gets louder in the final tracks, just as the memory of the Baroque composers grows clearer, as if Deak is singing to her ancestral sisters, I hear you still.  (Richard Allen)

Claire Deak’s new album, “Sotto Voce,” is a modern interpretation of Baroque music that pays homage to Francesca Caccini and Barbara Strozzi.

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