Dvorak: Songs

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Songs
PERFORMER: Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano), Roger Vignoles (piano)
Known above all as a lovely singer of Baroque and Classical repertoire, Bernarda Fink here ventures into what may seem like alien territory. But the Argentinian-born mezzo has Slovenian blood, lived and studied in Prague and speaks fluent Czech. Add to this a voice of rare warmth, purity and evenness, and subtle, discerning musicianship, and you have a recipe for a cherishable recital of Dvorák’s marvellous but (with a few obvious exceptions) still under-appreciated songs. Other singers, including Anne Sofie von Otter (DG) and the exciting if slightly coarse-toned Sarah Walker (Meridian), have brought more fire and swagger to the extrovert pieces among the Gypsy Songs. But Fink’s relative refinement and restraint have their own rewards. And her gently glowing timbre, flecked by darker, deeper tints, and supple phrasing (rubato always grows naturally from the curve of the line and the flux of the harmony) are ideal in the melancholy, Brahmsian ‘Silent and lone the woods around’ and the favourite ‘Songs my mother taught me’. Comparison with the lighter-voiced Magdalena Kozená (DG) in the bittersweet Op. 83 Love Songs and the two numbers from Op. 2 reveals the Czech mezzo to be the more highly strung interpreter. But Fink is just as moving, with her contained passion and her capacity to hint at depths of sorrow beneath the surface. Roger Vignoles is, as ever, a highly sympathetic partner, singing limpidly in dialogue with the voice and relishing without exaggeration Dvorák’s cimbalom and zither evocations. A wholly delectable disc, and one that should win many new friends for these songs in the composer’s centenary year. Richard Wigmore