The marvelously expressive mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink gave her long-anticipated return recital Sunday afternoon at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the Union College Concert Series.
She was last here in 2012, and Sunday’s concert was one of only a handful she is giving in this country this year.
Her varied program included traditional repertoire from Hugo Wolf and Robert Schumann and less-traveled pieces by Slovenian composer Lucijan Skerjanc, Argentinian composers Alberto Ginastera and Carlos Guastavino. Although her German diction was sensational, Fink had a more intimate connection to the other languages as she was born in Argentina to Slovenian parents and she seemed to let loose in these pieces, which were especially romantic.
Her pianist and estimable partner was pianist Anthony Spiri, who coaxed the piano to play at such tender levels that balances were as transparent as crystal. Using little pedal, his technique was equally clean and dynamics were tautly controlled.
They opened with four selections from Wolf’s “Das Spanisches Liederbuch” (1890) and three selections from his “Das Italienisches Liederbuch” (1891-1896). Text for most of the songs was by Paul Heyse (1830-1914), and two by Emanuel von Geibel (1815-1884). Fink sculpted each phrase and layered on colors like a painter applying a bit of color here, a stronger line there. She spun out her lush, rich tones with a vibrato that was never noticeable. The way she finished each phrase was especially beautiful.
Schumann’s “Frauenliebe und -leben” (1840) of eight songs with text by Adelbert von Chamisso (1781-1838) were exquisite. Each was well-paced and had its own story. The crowd especially liked this group and Spiri was moved to kiss her hand in acknowledgment of her artistry.
The second half was very lyrical. Skerjanc’s five songs had particularly beautiful text by Pavel Karlin (1899-1965). The moods were more often cheerful, the imagery eloquent. Fink was exultant and precise in all of them. Guastavino’s five songs had wonderful melodies with darker harmonies that Fink emphasized. Ginastera’s five songs were lively, often unresolved harmonically, and intense. Fink had fun.
The encore was Ginastera’s “The Oblivion Tree” at which a lover hopes to forget his sorrow, falls asleep and wakens only to discover he’s forgotten to forget. Fink embraced the sensuous, swaying rhythms and made it a fabulous torch song.
The next concert on the series is Sunday with violinist Soovin Kim in a solo Bach recital.