Slovene and Argentine Rarities from Bernarda Fink

United StatesUnited States Wolf, Schumann, Škerjanc, Guastavino, Ginastera: Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Spiri (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 11.11.2016. (BJ)

Wolf – Lieder from Spanisches Liederbuch and Italienisches Liederbuch
Schumann – Frauenliebe und Frauenleben, Op.42
Škerjanc – Five songs
Guastavino – Five songs
Ginastera – Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas, Op.10

“Authentic” is a grossly overused and misused word. But the sense of instinctive connection with her material that shone out from the second half of Bernarda Fink’s Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital had an unmistakable aura of authenticity about it.

It may be surprising to suggest that such a feeling was missing before intermission: her established credentials in music ranging from Monteverdi and Mozart through the Austro-German repertoire had led me to expect a similar close involvement in the Argentine mezzo’s performances of Lieder by Wolf and Schumann. This half of the program, however, was just a little disappointing. If the relative lack of a true legato in her German diction and line was a factor in my disappointment, I have to confess that the actual repertoire she had selected may well have been a more important source of personal alienation from what I was hearing. Wolf is a composer I seem to be temperamentally unable to respond to, turned off as I am by his pervasive misanthropy—bitchiness, even—and his penchant for vividly identifying with the individual words in his texts while hardly ever subsuming them in an overarching musical line or atmosphere. And much as I love Schumann’s songs, Frauenliebe und Frauenleben has always seemed to me to be far the least compelling and sympathetic of his cycles.

By contrast, it was the sheer spontaneous joy and often profound insight with which Ms Fink illuminated her Slovene and Argentine repertoire that brought the evening up to the level of truly great music-making (and her pianist, Anthony Spiri, similarly emerged in these songs from the competent but somewhat anonymous character of his work before intermission and started to play with real flair).

Lucijan Marija Škerjanc (1900–1973) was a Slovenian composer whose music and even whose name were previously unknown to me, so it was with a sense of worthwhile discovery that I enjoyed the expressive freshness and frequent melodic charm of such songs as his “Vecerna impresija” and “Pomladni dan.” And Ms. Fink, in addition to her Argentine origin, could claim a direct national affinity here, for she was born of a Slovenian family, and sang Škerjanc’s music as to the manner born.

It was the impression of music enhancing words that was striking in these songs, precisely the impression that Wolf rarely gives me. Then we moved on to the echt Argentine final segment of the program, and again Ms Fink unerringly brought out every ounce of national character and charm in five songs by Carlos Guastavino (1912) and the Five Argentine Folk Songs by my late-lamented friend, the four-years-younger Alberto Ginastera. The latter composer’s strong musical personality and mastery in a variety of stylistic fields is well known, and could be enjoyed here in moods ranging from the inward-turned sorrow of “Triste” to the genuinely feline mischief of “Gato.”

The Guastavino songs were scarcely less attractive, and I was particularly taken with a little recurring figure in “El sampedrino” (“The Man from San Pedro”) where three descending short notes in the voice were matched near the beginnings of many lines of text in rhythmic unison with the piano part. Again, the text was illuminated by the music, rather than being offered as a collection of mere disjunct words and syllables. Quite a composer, this Guastavino.

Bernard Jacobson

Leave a Comment