Mixing piano song with chamber music, Bernarda Fink’s recital titled “Une rare Èmotion”, placed Ravel’s vocal music in the context of his era. That “rare emotion” was a search for alternatives to mainstream culture, exemplified by exotic, alien places. While British colonialism belittled other cultures, the French saw in “orientalism” potential for creative growth. Ravel’s fascination with non-western concepts wasn’t effete, but an act of affirmative courage.
Bernarda Fink began her recital with Ravel’s Cinq mÈlodies populaires grecques (1904-6). Their simplicity is deceptive for they represent a very different aesthetic to the often florid fin de siËcle lushness popular at the time. Perhaps it’s significant that the poet who wrote the texts, Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi, persuaded Ralph Vaughan Williams to study with Ravel instead of with Vincent d’Indy. Fink and Christopher Glynn, her pianist, are right not to overdo the folk origins of these songs, for they herald Ravel’s later work, like Rapsodie espagnol and even BolÈro. Perceptively, Fink and Glynn juxtaposed these songs with Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis, written only 5 years previously, preceding the languid sensuality of La Fl˚te de Pan with Camille Saint-SaÎns Une fl˚te invisible (Flautist : Adam Walker)
Moire stellar, however, was Fink’s performance of Ravel’s very early ShÈherÈzade (1903). “Asie, Asie, Asie”, she sang, her voice glowing with excitement, “Vieux pays merveilleux des contes de nourrice”. Then, she intoned the words “Je voudrais voir des assassins souriant”, almost parlando, hinting at menacing mysteries”. Emotional extremes and daring — Ravel was by no means as mannered as the dandy image he presented.
Jules Massenet’s …lÈgie (1872) was a reminder of the French Romantic tradition, here transcribed for cello (Marie Bitlloch) which nicely complimented Fink’s lower register. The highlight of the evening, nonetheless, was Fink’s performance of Ravel’s Chansons madÈcasses (1926). This is Ravel’s exoticism in full glory. Fink’s singing took on a shimmer that brought out the suppressed erotic tension. Her Aoua! was spectacular, vibrant with horror. “MÈfiez-vous des blancs, habitants du rivage”, she sang. Beware of the whites, who make enticing promises, but bring carnage. The violence is even more terrifying when Ravel follows this outburst with Il est doux. A man is sitting under a palm tree, a woman is preparing his meal. The music lilts languidly. But who is the man, and who is the woman? After Aoua!, we should beware. Ravel is provocative. Exoticism isn’t safe.
Fink and Glynn sang Debussy’s Trois mÈlodies de Paul Verlaine (1891) and a selection of FaurÈ songs from his op 39 and 76, including the lovely Les roses d’Ispahan which often makes me swoon, but after that Aoua! anything but Ravel seemed tame. Glynn’s transcription of Poulenc’s Priez por paix, for voice, piano, flute and cello ended the evening on a more soothing note.
image_description=Bernarda Fink [Photo by Klemen Breitfuss courtesy of machreich artists management gmbh]
product_title=Bernarda Fink at Wigmore Hall
product_by=Bernarda Fink, Christopher Glynn, Adam Walker, Marie Bitlloch. Wigmore Hall, London, 14th December 2011.
product_id=Above: Bernarda Fink [Photo by Klemen Breitfuss courtesy of machreich artists management gmbh]