Bernarda Fink Contributes to the Wigmore Hall’s Dvořák Plus Series

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Dvořák, Brahms, Škerjanc, Ipavec, Lajovic: Bernarda Fink (mezzo- soprano), Roger Vignoles (piano) Wigmore Hall, London. 13.4.2012 (CC)

Dvořák: Six Songs from the Queen’s Court Manuscript, Op. 7
Brahms: Four Songs from Deutsche Volkslieder
: Five Biblical Songs from Op. 99
Lucijan Škerjanc:
Jesenska pesem. Večerja impresija
Benjamin Ipavec: Pomladni veter
Anton Lajovic: Mesec v izbi. Kaj bi le gledal
Brahms:  Vergebliches Ständchen, Op. 84/4. Der Gang zum Liebchen, Op. 48/1. Die Mainacht, Op. 43/2. Von ewiger Liebe, Op. 43/1.
: In Folk Tone, Op. 73

Part of the Dvořák Plus Series/Roger Vignoles: Perspectives, this was a thought-provoking yet somehow unsatisfactory recital. Bernarda Fink is a major name, yet people stayed away (the central part of the main block of seats was effectively empty), so there was little sense of occasion.  Perhaps that is why she took so long to warm into the evening. The idea of a folk-based recital is a nice one, if on paper (and, as it turned out, in actuality) too much of a good thing.

Dvořák’s Op. 7 (the Songs from the Queen’s Court Manuscript) was published in 1872. The history is arguably more interesting than the music: the Queen’s Court Manuscript was published as of texts from the medieval period – they were actually forgeries. Still, several prominent composers set text from the manuscript, including Smetana and Fibich. Whoever wrote them the poems, in this performance Vignoles delighted continuously, whereas Fink sounded less convinced; there was the distinct impression that she had yet to warm up. She certainly was not inside the songs’ moods. Perhaps tellingly, she was at her best in the darkest by far of the set, the fifth we heard (“The forsaken maiden”).

Fink found herself better suited to the dialogues of Brahms’ “Wie komm’ ich denn zue Tür hinein” (it is sometimes heard as a duet), yet again it was Vignoles’ chameleon accompanying that stood out (he was brilliantly Brahmsian in his more rounded tone and deeper piano sound). Somehow, I had expected Fink’s voice to be more velvety but, alas, she was unable to match Vignoles’ burnished sound (this was especially obvious in “Es steht ein’ Lind”). Both musicians managed to plumb the depths of “Schwesterlein”, and Fink’s wordless ‘La La’s in “Feinsliebchen” were most becoming.

It was interesting to read the texts of the selection from Dvořák’s Biblical Songs, the second of which (“Lord, thou art my refuge and my shield”) confirmed Christianity as a fear-based faith (“… I am afraid of thee … trembling do I come before Thy judgment seat”) which thinks nothing of resorting to violence if it does not get its way (”Thou shalt tread down my enemies” in No. 3). Timely, given the latest kerfuffle about planned anti-gay advertising from the Church here in the UK that nearly made it to the sides of London buses. Still, the misguided basis of the religion itself aside, Dvořák’s music was radiant and Fink gave a convincing case that she was a convert to things biblical. Vignoles’ bubbling accompaniment to “Sing ye a joyful song unto the Lord” was a joy.

The trio of Slovenian composers (although born in Buenos Aires, Fink is of Slovenian extraction) was a real mix. Beginning with the initially Poulenc-y, then faux-Wagner of “Jesenska pesem” (Autumn Song) by Lucijan Škerjanc (1900-1973) was a bad move indeed. The other song by this composer, “Večerja impresija” (Evening impression) was hardly an improvement – the climax clearly spoke of Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder. Benjamin Ipavec  (1829-1908) contributed a sweet item, “Pomladni veter” (Sweet breeze) before two songs by Anton Lajovic (1878-1960) completed the group with rather anonymous settings of poems by Li Tai Po and Robert Burns. Those who are curious may like to know that Miss Fink has recorded all these Slovenian songs – and the Slovenian encore by Ademič – on a Harmonia Mundi CD entitled ‘Slovenija!’ (HMC902065).  After these rather lightweight items the return to Brahms was like returning home. The dark, Mahlerisch “Der Gang sum Liebchen” was noteworthy for its intensity and provided the high point of the group. Finally, more Dvořák: the Op. 73 In folk tone, well presented but too much of the same. There were encores, Emil Ademič’s Lullaby and Dvořák’s “Me seduce casto”: more of the same, in other words.

Colin Clarke