Today, BERNARDA FINK is universally recognized as one of the outstanding vocal artists of our time. For the past decade she has established herself as a privileged partner of such diverse conductors as Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, John Eliot Gardiner and Claudio Abbado. Her repertoire is broad: she has triumphed in Monteverdi, Alessandro Scarlatti and Rameau as well as in Mozart, Schumann, Brahms, Mahler or Debussy. She excels both in tongue-in-cheek music and works that, beyond pure vocal technique, require a talent for psychological characterization and recreating situations. A Kammersängerin in the fullest sense of the term, she priorizes the Lied, cantata and oratorio, limiting her participation in opera to works that favour the music over the theatre, with Monteverdi and Mozart enjoying pride of place.
Such an artist has a duty to create an abundant discography, and thus BERNARDA FINK has participated in a large number of top-flight recordings. But, curiously, few of these are centred on her. In opera, she tends to embody essential roles but rarely the title role; in oratorios and cantatas, she is part of an ensemble ; in Lied, she is often participates in collective programmes. Admired and adored, BERNARDA FINK has, up until now, released few discs that allow the listener to appreciate how unique her art is.
Would this be due to her mezzo-soprano tessitura or to her very great modesty, which keeps her at a certain distance from the depersonalizing star system? I don’t know. But, embarking on what I hope will be a regular collaboration with her, I wanted to focus attention on the artistic dimension of an extraordinary personality: a singer who expresses herself like a violin, while giving full weight to the articulation of the text.
Rather than making a new recording of a wellknown work, we sought to begin by venturing into the sphere of research. Since we had the marvellous backing of ARS ANTIQUA AUSTRIA – the Austrian sound par excellence for surrounding a Slovenian artist born in Argentina but imbued with the culture of Central Europe –, the Austro-Italian repertoire imposed itself. Approached about leading the recording, GUNAR LETZBOR suggested the first book of unpublished Cantatas by Francesco Conti.
Conti was a Florentine lutenist. In fact, he was the only Italian lutenist who practised the ‘new chords’ of the French school. But he made his career in Vienna, as a musician to the Emperor, along with Johann Joseph Fux and Antonio Caldara. Joseph I liked intimate, delicate music and played the flute himself. It was doubtless at his instigation that Conti composed two books of four cantatas each, for solo voice and subtle, refined instrumental accompaniment. These Cantatas, of a delightfully pastoral nature, alternate arias and recitatives (o divine Bernarda!) of considerable variety, some of them already adopting a tone that prefigures Mozart. We must also draw attention to the instrumental part, treated as an element of utmost importance: that is where one will appreciate the rich contribution of ARS ANTIQUA AUSTRIA.
A true feast for ear and spirit !
MICHEL BERNSTEIN Translated by John Tyler-Tuttle