Songs and Duets
Bernarda Fink, Genia Kühmeier and Christoph Berner
I was not familiar with Dvorak’s song cycles and duets prior to reviewing Zigeunerlieder. I am familiar with Dvorak’s bigger works and I heard recordings featuring mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink in the past. Of Dvorak’s smaller works, this recording features Gypsy Melodies sung by the young soprano Genia Kühmeier and accompanied on piano by Christoph Berner, Moravian Duets with the addition of Bernarda Fink and Biblical Songs sung by Fink and accompanied by Berner, who plays beautifully on this disc.
According to the liner notes, Moravian Duets launched Dvorak’s career and attracted the attention of the esteemed composer Johannes Brahms who at the time was a member of a jury that awarded the Austrian State Stipendium “for young, talented, and impoverished musicians”. Dvorak had composed the songs originally for his private music students. True, that singing and playing music was how people entertained themselves, until the invention of the phonograph, television, and radio. However, I imagine that Dvorak composed these songs for accomplished vocalists. While the songs aren’t quite operatic, the vocals slide up the high end of the spectrum and offer other vocal challenges. Nevertheless, these duets stand out as my favorite on this recording.
Finks and Kühmeier’s vocals blend seamlessly while providing delightful harmonies. The frolics that open this section I Will Escape You and Fly, Fly Little Bird bounce gleefully off the vocalists’ tongues while Water and Tears and The Modest Maiden sound melancholic. The Ring resembles a musical conversation rather than two vocalists harmonizing. While the duets captured my attention immediately, Kühmeier delivers robust and earthy vocals on the Gypsy Melodies and Fink delivers soulful vocals on the Biblical Songs, which the Dvorak composed during a dark period of his later years. Just as with African spirituals and Jewish sacred songs, Dvorak’s Biblical Songs offer a cathartic balm to listeners and most likely, the musicians too.