This recital was a mixed blessing. The program is well chosen. The music is exciting and alluring, accessible yet rare enough to be attractive to travelers along the byways of song. The performances are beautiful and thoughtful. Fink's tone is consistently attractive, her technique and ornamentation are impressive. But there are essential Spanish elements missing. Rhythms are not accented, with scarcely any rubato in evidence. She does not bite into her consonants or relish the typical Spanish sounds like "ll," "j," and "y." Part of the problem is in the foursquare playing of Roger Vignoles on the piano. In any case, the songs are captivating and Bernarda Fink's expressiveness is beautiful but undermined by this lack of flair. Though less effective than her debut art song recorded of Schumann Lieder on harmonia mundi, this remains nonetheless a record of lasting appeal.
The program is of love songs offered from the perspective of man, woman, and third person. This music is so rarely heard and worth hearing as to make the disc self-recommending. Spanish composers lean more toward collections than narrative cycles, and here we have some collections presented in full and some excerpted. Spanish art song conveys a rich bittersweetness, stretching the ear with tangy chromaticisms and veiled harmonies, their unsettling effect kept within bounds by recognizable rhythms, modulations, melismas, and other characteristic flourishes. Refined, yes, but never too distant from its popular variants.
The Granados collection that begin the disk has the first 5 songs rather centered on the pains of love, from different angles: deeply sympathetic narrator, a girl in the torments of young love, one man rueful, another wry and cynical.