Bernarda Fink and Anthony Spiri: "Gustav Mahler: A Life in Songs"
With Gustav Mahler-Ensemble, Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, Orozco-Estrada. Texts and translations. Harmonia Mundi 902173
Argentine-born mezzo Bernarda Fink, though not a marquee name, is among the finest (and most versatile) performers working in classical song today. For Harmonia Mundi alone she has issued worthy recordings of Schubert, Brahms, Dvořák and Argentine composers. Working with her frequent recital partner, American pianist Anthony Spiri, she has also recorded Schumann, Slovenian and Spanish songs. Fink's Harmonia Mundi recital issues add up to the most impressive multi-issue collection of songs by diverse composers since Roberta Alexander's multiple releases on Etcetera.
The music of Mahler has long figured in Fink's live recital programs and concert repertory. With this disc she offers a unique survey of the composer's songs that presents the material, drawn from a quarter-century of his compositional activity, in three different musical formats. Spiri accompanies five rarely heard early songs — "Im Lenz" and "Winterlied," to the composer's own texts, as well as "Ablösung im Sommer," "Nicht wiedersehen!" and "Frühlingsmorgen." A responsive nine-person chamber ensemble in which Spiri plays joins her for Arnold Schönberg's 1920 redaction of Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen; and the estimable Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, under Andrés Orozco-Estrada, plays for Kindertotenlieder. The four famous selections from the Rückert-Lieder are divided, with Spiri collaborating on "Liebst du um Schönheit" and "Um Mitternacht" — which even in this restrained form brings forth some distinctively effortful high-lying phrases from the singer — bookended by the orchestra accompanying "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" and the immortal "Ich bin der welt abhanden gekommen."
As suggested above, there are moments in the seventy-eight minutes of this disc (such as the rather rusty "Ging heut'morgen über's Feld") at which Fink's sound emerges distinctly mature, but there are also stretches of lovely youthful tone and a fine range of dynamics. The microphone captures a full mezzo resonance that now can be elusive when hearing Fink in the concert hall. Verbal content is satisfyingly conveyed: complete idiomatic mastery and intellectual grasp are both givens with this artist. Restraint, rather than underlining, is Fink's phrasing hallmark. This fine album will take a place in my collection next to the Mahler releases of Christa Ludwig and Janet Baker.
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