As if that were not enough there is a lot more not only on this album, but on previous albums, notably The City of My Soul (released on the VIG Round imprint of Parma Recordings, 2013, and also as an Independent Sophie Dunér Production in 2011). This astounding recording features the Callino Quartet, a masterful string ensemble formed during the West Cork Chamber Music Festival in 1999 and taking the world by storm ever since, and was produced by the celebrated Michael Haas who spent more than three decades as executive producer at Decca Records – a decade of which he spent producing recordings for the great Georg Solti. The expressive core of this album – which includes a brilliant version of Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” – is “Ugly Beautiful”, which conjures the famous ghost of Thelonious Monk. On this chart, Miss Dunér shows her breathtaking ability to
indulge her vocalastics with a string quartet as she “smooths” away some of the quartet’s sinuous toughness, adding a dense emotional richness to the chart. Here we also experience the lushness and intensity of her writing which is fully realised in the opulent and varied string sound. Best of all, of course, is how Miss Dunér articulates the fastidious chamber orchestral fabric of the pieces as she displays the full range of her virtuoso vocal ability. But it isn’t simply virtuosity that is on display here. Emotions are articulated with nuance. Space and silence is followed by slight and gasping intakes of breath as feelings of dread and fear as well as calm and ferocious power inform Miss Dunér’s songful expression of the narratives.
When feelers were first put out Miss Dunér was “somewhere in a forest” outside Gothenburg breathing in the primordial rhythms of nature. She is as likely to be found disappearing behind a tree in a forest as she is on whirling around the city on a bicycle, the wind embracing her face. But in the relative aloneness she is subsumed by the sounds that most of us are not accustomed to listening to and this is probably why her style of singing can only be called vocalastics because what the extraordinary dynamism and kinetics that Miss Dunér’s voice is made to undergo as she sings can only be perceived as a kind of gymnastics informed by an extreme elasticity provoked by even the most normal and mundane words and phrases. This is why on a song like Thelonious Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” what you expect would be a jazzy vocal becomes wild vocalastics that seem to trace the angular shards of Mr Monk’s own idiosyncratic harmonic and rhythmic conception. You will likely only hear something like this from legendary vocalists like the late Jeanne Lee and Lauren Newton, whose breathtaking vocal aerobics once informed the Vienna Art Orchestra under the direction of Mathias Rüegg.
Of course Miss Dunér takes all of this to a whole new level because she is able to scale a broad swathe of registers from the depths of a contralto to a witheringly high soprano. Hers is a musical language that you feel in your palette, fingers, stomach and in your spine. Miss Dunér makes this happen because she feels the words of the lyrics in exactly that way and can communicate them in just that all-encompassing manner to her audiences. This makes her art almost epic as you feel the enormous struggle in the separation of the elements – words, music, art and production – by her showing each as a self-contained, independent work of art, each one of which adopts its own attitude towards the other. In her oft-performed song, Charles Mingus’ “Weird Nightmare” one experiences a climactic catharsis of emotion which leaves you complacently drained as she strips away the event of its self-evident, familiar quality and creates in its place a sense of astonishment and curiosity about it and in her direct address to the audience she often uses a harsh and dissonant melodicism, this to disrupt (or interrupt) the action in the narrative and the transposition of the text to the third person (the audience member).