- Performer: Antonin Dvorak, Bernarda Fink, Roger Vignoles
- Audio CD (July 13, 2004)
- SPARS Code: DDD
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Import
- Label: Harmonia Mundi Fr.
- ASIN: B0001WECMY
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,962 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Argentina-born mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink's many acclaimed early music recordings (including an outstanding Gluck Orfeo ed Eurydice) tend to overshadow the width of her repertory, which includes fine discs of Spanish moderns, Schumann, and now, Dvorak. She sings these songs as if to the manner born, giving idiomatic renderings of 33 songs from various stages of Dvorak's career. Some are well-known, such as the ever-popular "Songs My Mother Taught Me," done here splendidly, Fink in fine voice, gently caressing the melody and resisting its ample temptations to overstatement. She brings appropriate zest to the seven songs of Gypsy Melodies, and folk influences in other songs, such as "Good Night," from the Op.73 In Folk Style, are irresistible. In songs like "The Forsaken Maiden," Fink colors her voice to bring out the narrator's deep emotions. Pianist Roger Vignoles, brings out the Schubertian rippling accompaniment in "At the Brook," and partners her elsewhere with expertise. The disc abounds in glorious melodies and Fink's expressive singing is a fine way to know a neglected part of the composer's output. --Dan Davis
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Throughout the recital Bernarda Fink proves herself to be one of the absolutely finest lieder singers of her generation. Her voice is fresh and "warmly crystalline" (if that metaphor makes sense), her phrasing wonderful, her color palette rich, her emotional range wide with all the nuances covered, and she has obviously given some thought to how each particular song can be performed to maximum effect. And the results are, again, absolutely marvelous. Fink is appropriately poignant, but consistently avoids anything resembling over-sugaring; rather the moods and emotions are expressed through subtle vocal shadings and colors. Roger Vignoles's playing similarly contains a wide expressive range, and he conjures up some stunningly evocative atmospheres on his own while always supporting the singer in the most impressive manner possible. Add to that a perfect recorded sound, good notes, and full texts and translations, and you have one of the most cherishable discs of any collection. A mandatory acquisition.
Nonetheless, I must issue one caveat coupled with a moan: the English versions might well have been “authorised by the composer” but I doubt whether his English was sufficiently fluent to register what a load of old tosh these Victorian renderings in faux-archaic “poetic” English are. The text is larded with anastrophe, including frequent subject verb inversions, and transferred epithets - orphaned adjectives – so we are treated to frequent usage of “thee” and “thou”, “’tis”, “’twas” and “’twere” and clumsy Middle English verbs such as “kisseth” and “drieth”. At times the sense is so obscure that I gave up altogether and turned to the French or German to understand the import of the verse; here is a classically risible sample, being the last “Gypsy Song”:
Cloudy heights of Tatra daring falcon haunteth
Lure him not from thence, for cage his spirit daunteth!
Roves the plain the wild colt, free as summer breezes
Broken, when his proud neck bit and bridle seizes.
Nature to a gypsy thou a boon ast (sic) granted!
Jaj! Thy glorious freedom’s in his breast implanted.
Sheer gobbledygook; the French is infinitely more comprehensible. To cap it all, the English text is riddled with a dozen or more misprints like the one above.
None of this is the performers’ fault and I suppose these were the out-of-copyright translations readily available – but they do the songs no favours.
Fink has one of the most beautiful and rich-toned mezzo-soprano voices on the circuit today: steady, precise and wholly even throughout its range with no technical weaknesses. A seasoned communicator, she never resorts to over-emphasis but conveys deep emotion via a minimum of artifice; there is never any posturing or archness in her delivery and she is admirably supported by the doyen of accompanists, Roger Vignoles, who first suggested that she should sing more Lieder. The accent here is upon restraint and refinement; Vignoles’ dynamic shading and phrasing are as subtle as his singer’s.
These songs are of course suffused with folk rhythms and are also very short, generally only a minute or two, and range in duration from just one minute to a maximum of three and a half. Consequently, melodic phrases may be varied or repeated but there is no opportunity for the more strophic approach of Schubert or Schumann. The piano often imitates folk instruments such as a guitar or zither, bells, triangles or a harp, providing arpeggiated accompaniments to songs which veer between lively, upbeat dances and broadly lyrical laments.
Listeners like me habituated to German Lieder or indeed French melodies might take a few hearings to absorb and appreciate the style of these songs, simultaneously both more diffuse - in melodic content - and succinct - in narrative duration; little is repeated and each song takes on the characteristics of miniature polished gem or vignette.
You will not find a fuller of better collection of these neglected songs, all the more desirable now that they have been re-issued, still with complete texts and notes, at a bargain price.
[This review also posted on the MusicWeb International website]
Dvorak: Hello, how are you today?
me: Good how are you?
Dvorak: Great, I just heard a recording of some Lieder I composed and I'm really happy with it.
me: Really I didn't know that you composed Lieder.
Dvorak: Yeah you really should check it out.
me: You know I just might, buh bye now!
And again about a week later:
me: Hey buddy how are you today?
Dvorak: Good you?
me: Great, hey I did check out that Lieder, great great stuff, you're really a great song composer.
Dvorak: I know and everyone always talks about Schubert being so good! Schubert, Schubert, Schubert... My songs are just as good as his.
Anyway I'm sorry about that but this is really a great CD, in my book it ranks right up there with the Schwarzkopf Schubert lieder from EMI, the singing is absolutly wonderful. Harmonia Mundi does such a great job of packaging their products as well. Give it a try...and keep me updated!