29 Aug 2010

Brahms: Lieder

Like her impressive recording of Lieder by Dvořák (Harmonia Mundi CD 901824), Bernarda Fink’s recording of a selection of Lieder by Brahms not only offers a fine representation of the music, but also demonstrate the singer’s command of this repertoire.

Her sense of style is apparent from the start of the recording, with a spirited reading of “Bei dir sind meine Gedanken,” and Vignoles sensitive accompaniment supports Fink well. The nuances of musical phrasing fit well into the poetic lines, as it should be, and that, perhaps is one of the best things to say about this recording of range of Brahms’s Lieder. The “Sapphische Ode” is telling for the understated simplicity Fink offers in allowing the lines to emerge effortlessly, and with that the accompaniment comes to the fore readily. This is chamber music in the best sense, as one player hands off the line to the other, with Fink’s phrases intersecting with Vignoles, and Vignoles leading nicely to the continuation of the vocal line.

Such interplay is particularly noticeable in “Von ewiger Liebe,” with its two-part structure juxtaposing the somber opening with the affirming conclusion, a transformation that is supported by the metric change, from 3 / 4 to 6 / 8. The valediction at the conclusion suggests the kind of intensity Mahler would create in his setting of Rückert’s “Um Mitternacht.” This calls to mind the more sustained mood of this song, which Fink and Vignoles deliver with conviction, The rhythmic interplay and the vocal inflection combine well in the execution of this piece, along with the other songs in the selection.

The pieces are from various sets of Lieder that Brahms composed at various times in his career, and this results in a useful overview of the composer’s efforts in this genre. At the same time, the in wide selection requires the performers to be sensitive to the details that set the pieces apart from each other, and they meet that challenge well. The early “Liebestreu” from his Opus 3 set is effective, as are later compositions, such as “Der Jäger” (Op. 95) and “Das Mädchen spricht” (Op. 107). Throughout the recording Vignoles offers a solid and nuanced accompaniment that not only supports Fink, but also suggests the kind of partnership essential to Lieder and particularly necessary in the contributions of Brahms. The other choices from Brahms’ approximately 200 Lieder include some pieces that are heard less often, yet fit Fink’s voice quite well, like “Der Gang zum Liebchen,” while the familiar ones, like Brahms’s famous lullaby, “Wiegenlied,” is fresh and fitting, especially as the final selection on the CD.

In this Harmonia Mundi recording, the sound is sympathetic to the repertoire, with a warm resonance that lets the voice and piano work well. The result is an exemplary studio recording of Lieder which, at the same time, offer the immediate sound associated with live recitals. In addition, the booklet that accompanies the recording is conceived well, with the full texts and translations of each of the Lieder complemented with a brief essay by Walter Rösler. These elements of the CD support the excellent performances found in this recording my mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink and pianist Roger Vignoles.

James L. Zychowicz