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THE INCOMPARABLE

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  Approached about leading the recording, GUNAR  LETZBOR suggested the first book of unpublished  Cantatas by Francesco Conti.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

 

Diapason Or award 5 Goldberg award