Stephanie Lamprea has nowhere to hide. In early 2022, she released Quaking Aspen, a stunning collection that featured her vocals accompanied by electronics, percussion, and spoken recitations by other artists. With her new album, she tackles a thorny piece for solo vocal and nobody else. What makes it even more challenging is that 14 Récitations – a concert-length avant-garde song cycle for unaccompanied female voice – abandons traditional use of text and, to quote the press materials, “set phonemes and vocal sounds with atonality, extended vocal techniques, puzzles, and repetitions”.
Composed in 1977 and 1978 by Georges Aperghis, 14 Récitations shows a woman attempting to speak but is not understood. The performer must demonstrate this frustrating trauma. The recording, performed in Glasgow, where Lamprea is partly based, is absolutely pristine, unadorned by any accompaniment. The listener can hear Lamprea as clear as a bell, and her interpretation of the trauma is perfect. This is not simply music; it’s performance art of the highest caliber. There is singing, shouting, screaming, laughing, all manner of vocal emotion.
The sing-song beginnings of “Recitation 1” sound like innocent vocal exercises, even when sped up and slowed down. There is anger and utter frustration apparent in the execution. Still, one can’t help but be transfixed not only by the breadth of emotion on display but also by the thespian nature of what is being performed. Lamprea is singing from the point of view of a woman on the verge of madness, and there is no other way to interpret her performance.
Lamprea emotes with a mix of anxiety and unhinged mirth as her words occasionally become a kind of gibberish. She occasionally becomes mocking in her tone, as the French words mix with non-verbal vocalizations, to the point that the lines between reality and insanity are blurred. By “Recitation 4”, she has moved on to a mix of droning and vocal effects that provide a unique variety to the kind of quasi-verbal performance she is flawlessly executing.
A stunningly masterful soprano, Lamprea reaches those glorious notes in “Recitation 5”, but eventually mixes in guttural growls and plenty of full-on screaming. It probably goes without saying that 14 Récitations is a wonderful album but probably shouldn’t be considered “background music”; it demands your full attention.
Throughout all the pieces of the song cycle, 14 Récitations ebbs and flows in this manner, whether it’s in the manic, whispering pronouncements of “Recitation 9”, the insane aria of “Recitation 12”, or the brief, hushed coda that is “Recitation 14”. Lamprea, a fearless genius of a performer, is constantly moving the goalposts and redefining modern music by tackling the most challenging compositions with bravura and passion.