Bernarda Fink and the Italian Baroque

From the very first tumbling triplet cascades of Veracini’s Overture No.6
in G Minor it was apparent that the AAM would present a performance notable for
its remarkable instrumental ensemble, dazzling clarity of articulation and
supple rhythmic agility. Richter’s stage manner may be characterised by
modest diffidence, but there is a discreet and impressive assurance about his
leadership, a barely discernible glance or subtle gesture sufficient to ensure
ensemble entries are crisp and precise, and tempi are intuitively sensed by

Blending pleasingly into a cohesive, sweet tone, the string players, oboists
and theorbo player found much diversity of colour in Veracini’s varied score,
the aching harmonic piquancies of the Largo giving way to vigorous polyphonic
dialogue in the subsequent Allegro. In the rumbustious bucolic Minuet which
concludes the overture, the players found a surprising dynamism in the almost
exclusively single-part texture, deftly shaping the robust, spritely melodic

Titled ‘Italian Passions’, this programme set out to explore “the
extremes of human emotion and the open-hearted Italian spirit”. Bernarda
Fink’s moving, almost operatic performance of Tarquinio Merula’s
idiosyncratic lullaby-chaconne, ‘Hor ch’Ë tempo di dormire’, certainly
presented a contrast to the bright buoyancy of Veracini. Above a sinister
rocking ostinato, which perhaps intimated the disturbed cries of the restless
child, Fink affectingly enacted Mary’s tender but urgent coaxing as she tries
to lull the baby Jesus to sleep. She drew every expressive nuance from the
melody; her deepest register was modulated with particular beauty and power to
convey the mother’s anguished warnings of the sufferings to come — her
distress deepened by the dry, insistent repetitions of Elizabeth Kenny’s
theorbo. Fink’s instinctive engagement with the text, complemented by the
range of colour and the flexibility of her voice enabled her to tell the tale
with fluency and naturalness. In the final two verses, with their
recitative-like melody, she found a stillness and repose as the mother vows to
“watch o’er my love/ And remain with bowed head/ So long as my child

After Merula’s deeply emotionally lament, ‘Sovvente il sole’ from
Vivaldi’s serenata Andromeda liberate depicted a melancholy
lover’s out-pouring of unrequited passion. Vivaldi’s dissonant inflections
were richly enjoyed by the strings above which Fink’s pure mezzo tone and
Richter’s delicate solo violin traceries entwined in perfectly controlled
long, flowing phrases.

The aria was enclosed between two fleet-footed violin concertos by Vivaldi,
‘L’amoroso’ and ‘L’inquietudine’. In the lilting first movement of
the former, Richter’s bow caressed the strings with sensuous gentleness, and
soloists and ensemble combined exuberance and refinement in the concluding
Allegro. ‘L’inquietudine’ evinced some technically impressive passage
work, Richter’s semiquavers ever swift and light, the running lines full of
character and Èlan.

After the interval, the strings were re-joined by the two oboists, Frank de
Bruine and Lars Henriksson, for a rendition of Albinioni’s Concerto in C
major for two oboes Op.9 No.9 which celebrated the composer’s rich, joyful
melodic vein.

The concluding work, Il Pianto di Maria by Giovanni Battisti
Ferrandini, was long attributed to Handel; Fink and the AAM demonstrated what a
formidable and compelling work this 8-movement cantata is, the sacred text —
drawn from both the Stabat mater and scenes depicting the Crucifixion —
delivered with a theatricality and direct impact more typical of opera
than of devotional compositions.

This is another portrait of a mother’s love and suffering for her son, and
again Fink’s expressive immediacy was striking. In the opening recitative,
her pained cry — “ah ciel!” — as Mary watches the “hideous tragedy”
of Calvary unfold, was redolent with distress and the “immense bitterness of
her torment”. Fink convincingly negotiated the rapid changes of emotion,
moving from sobriety to passion, from agony to defiance. The final da capo aria
had a quiet beauty and sober power as the mother reflects, “For his death
took away/ The awareness of his pain”.

The playing of the AAM strings was stylish: the arching melodic contours
were elegantly shaped, and the passages of close counterpoint and dialogue full
of grace. The players were alert to the emotive nuances of the frequent chains
of dissonance, and to the pictorial effects achieved by Ferrandini in the
accompanied recitatives — as, for example, in the third movements where sharp
stabbing gestures suggest Christ’s agony, “Lashed by scourges,/ Pierced by
thorns,/ Wounded by nails”; or when the turbulence of the “[t]here
universals earthquakes” decreed by God to mark the Crucifixion, Resurrection
and Last Judgement are portrayed by agitated string passages reminiscent of
Monteverdi’s stile concitato idiom.

The final, brief, and inconclusive, recitative, with its moralising dictum,
“Tremble, man, you too, who are earth!” was shocking and disturbing. It is
hard to imagine a more intense, impassioned portrayal of a mother’s adoration
and anguish.

Claire Seymour


Veracini Overture in G minor; Merula Aria: Hor ch’Ë tempo di
dormire; Vivaldi Concerto in E for violin RV271 ‘L’amoroso’, Aria:
Sovvente il sole from Andromeda liberate, Concerto in D for violin RV234
‘L’inquietudine’; Albinoni Concerto in C Op. 9 No. 9; Ferrandini Cantata:
Il pianto di Maria. Academy of Ancient Music. Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano.
Rodolfo Richter, director, violin. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday, 25th February

image_description=Bernarda Fink [Photo © Julia Wesely]
product_title=Bernarda Fink and the Italian Baroque
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Bernarda Fink [Photo © Julia Wesely]