14 Jan 2009

DVORÁK: Lieder

Unjustly neglected, Dvorák’s Lieder are among his most engaging works, and this selection of some of his most important contributions to the genre demonstrate the range of emotions and the breadth of expression the composer used in these works.

Bernarda Fink, known for fine work in recordings of Händel’s operas conducted by René Jacobs, has also recorded some of Schubert’s Lieder with Gerold Huber, piano. Yet Fink’s recording of Lieder by Dvorák addresses a longstanding need in the Romantic repertoire in literature that seems suited well to her voice.

This recording spans Lieder from the entirety of Dvorák’s career, including the Pisně, Op. 2, Pisně z rukopisu Královédvorského, Op. 7, Cigánské melodie, Op. 55, V národnim tónu, Op. 73, Pisně, Op. 82, Pisně Milostné, Op. 83, and Pisně na slova Elišky Krásnohorské (without Opus number). This selection makes available approximately a third of the 93 Lieder that Dvorák composed, Of these works, the mature set of love songs, Pisně Milostné, Op. 83, offer a fine introduction to Dvorák’s Lieder. The third song, “Kol domu se ted’ potácim” (“I wander past the nearby house”) captures some of the lyricism associated with the composer and, at the same time, has an accompaniment that reflects the motion found in Dvorák’s popular Slavonic Dances and other popular works, and Fink delivers the vocal line sensitively, and Vignoles provides a solid accompaniment. Almost familiar sounding, this song is typical of Dvorák’s style and brings to mind the echoes of folksong that are part of some of Brahms’s contributions to the genre.

Such resemblances occur throughout Dvorák’s songs, which also reflect the modal inflections characteristic of his style. While not overtly imitating folksong, as occurs more often with Mahler, Dvorák makes use of such a stylistic element to underscore his text, which is presented here in Czech, with translations in German, French, and English in parallel columns in the neat booklet bound with the recording. In those works designated as related to folk music, such as V národnim tónu, Op. 73, Dvorák evokes the idiom subtly with conventional gestures like the triadic vocal line of the second song in the set “Žalo dievča” or the third with its inventive accompaniment. In his hands, though, such elements are not mere artifice, but woven into the structure of the music and not merely treated as an additive. Fink’s performance brings out the integrity implicit in this and other songs by Dvorák.

Such elements are more pronounced in his Cigánské melodie, Op. 55, which nominally evoke the Gypsy style. The first of the latter set (“Má piseň zas mi láskou zni,” a hymn of love, has all the intensity of an aria from one of Dvorák’s operas and demonstrate’s his fine sense of reinforcing the mood with the accompaniment. This set also includes familiar music by Dvorák, with the fourth piece being the well-known “Songs my mother taught me” (“Když mne stará marka zpivat učívala”), which Fink delivers earnestly. The other songs exhibit the exoticism of the Gypsy style through the rhythmically inventive accompaniments that suggest a dance-like response to the sung text.

In this recording Bernarda Fink makes an audible case for these excellent Lieder through her sensitive interpretation of them. The pieces she selected fit her voice well, and her sometimes understated performances allow Fink to turn phrases neatly. At the same time, her enunciation of Czech is clear and idiomatic, with accents fitting nicely into the music and phrases aptly stated. Beyond her technical finesse in these pieces, Fink’s intensity contributes to the overall quality of the recording, which deserves attention by anyone interested in Dvorák’s music.

Roger Vignoles brings to the recording his mastery of the accompaniments to create with Fink a seamless ensemble. Prominent when he needs to be and reticent where appropriate, Vignoles brings a consistent support to the musical content of the songs that transcends the technical divisions between voice and piano. Together, Fink and Vignoles achieve a balance to which some aspire and few achieve so well.

James L. Zychowicz