Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Bernarda Fink @ Wigmore Hall, London

29 April 2009

Acclaimed Argentinean mezzo Bernarda Fink excels in Dvorak, but is surprisingly subdued in a selection of Schubert Lieder.

Whilst the first half fails to catch fire, the second shows why she is in such demand both on the concert platform and in the opera house.

Having warmed to Bernarda Fink on disc, this was my first encounter with her live, so expectations ran high as her wonderfully warm and dark-coloured mezzo-soprano voice had given consistent pleasure across a wide-ranging repertoire. Maybe I had raised the bar too high as initially I was taken aback at her reticence to fully engage with the Schubert items in the first half.

She began with Auf der Riesenkoppe and whilst there were occasional hints at the colours that lie within her instrument, the overall tone was too monochrome to properly do justice to the song. The following items remained resolutely earthbound and it was only when she managed to get under the skin of An Slivia that the voice began to bloom and the colours began to shine through. Here at last was a hint of what she was capable and there were further flashes of inspiration in a vigorously breathless account of Rastlose Liebe and she went on to deliver an exquisitively poised rendition of Ganymede.

Generally though the first half was disappointing, and the prospect of a second half made up entirely of Dvorak didn’t seem a thrilling prospect either, but after the break Fink returned to the platform and was transformed. She had used a score for all the songs in the first half, but sang the Dvorak from memory. Obviously she was on more familiar territory here and it showed from the first note to the last.

She invested each of the 5 Biblical Songs with a different sense of theatricality and at last made you sit up and take notice. There was no sense of her holding back as she let her voice off the reigns that had so marred the Schubert and here produced glorious singing throughout. There was hushed introspection in By the waters of Babylon and a joyous sense of spirituality in the final song Sing ye a joyful song unto the Lord.

If anything the Gypsy Songs were even better, and she received able support from Gerold Huber. This was definitely a recital of two halves, but Fink’s artistry in the Dvorak more than made up for the disappointments in the Schubert.

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