Edinburgh International Festival 2013 (5) – Bernarda Fink Recital

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2013 (5) – Bernarda Fink (mezzo soprano), Anthony Spiri (piano), Queen’s Hall,  Edinburgh, 23.08.2012 (SRT)

Songs by Schumann, Mahler, Debussy and Falla

Bernarda Fink’s lavish mezzo-soprano brought a welcome combination of European refinement and Latin American passion to the Queen’s Hall this morning. Fink is, for want of a better phrase, a “classic” mezzo in that the richest sound and the most distinctive colour occurs at the middle and lower range of her voice. The top is very fine too, but it is in the lower parts of the stave that she really excels with her ability to darken her voice so that it has the ability to suggest a half-lit world of shadow and suggestion. That lends her voice a luxuriant quality that is perfect for the sensual sound-world of Debussy’s Verlaine settings, especially the questing, uncertain world of Le son du cor. However, she was every bit as much at home in the more conventional lied world of Schumann’s Gedichte, opus 90, be it the light-hearted nature painting of Die Sennin or the heavy darkness of Die schwere Abend.

It was a lovely piece of programming to include, as a diptych, Mahler’s two songs Das irdische Leben and Das himmlische Leben, the first well known from the Wunderhorn cycle, the second more famous as the finale of the Fourth Symphony. Structurally the two songs are very different, one a brief, intense dialogue, the other a more extended child’s-eye view of earthly pleasures taking place in heaven. The contrast was remarkably effective, though, with Fink inhabiting the twin roles of the mother and child very convincingly in the first song, and summoning a convincing air of innocence in the dream-like world of the second. Anthony Spiri’s piano accompaniment came into its own here, too, jolly in the earlier sections as the saints chase lambs for supper, spellbinding in the lullaby of the final pages.

With Fink’s Argentine background, I had expected the Falla songs to be the highlight of the concert and, indeed, the lower, flamenco-influences numbers in the Seven Popular Spanish Songs suited Fink’s voice very well indeed. In fact, however, it was Spiri’s piano part that really shone here, with repeated guitar figurations and Spanish dance inflections to give the songs a special touch of colour.

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be available via the iPlayer for seven days after the date of the concert.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 1st September at a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson