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Hyperion Records

CDA67186 - Canciones amatorias

Recording details: December 2000
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Julian Millard
Release date: June 2002
Total duration: 59 minutes 0 seconds


'Full of rare delights … this well-recorded disc is highly recommendable' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Fink is one of the best singers I’ve encountered in some time, and she goes a long way to making this recording the most enjoyable anthology of Spanish songs I’ve heard' (American Record Guide)

'Recommended with enthusiasm' (International Record Review)

'A strong case for the inclusion of at least some Spanish Song into mainstream repertoire … Vignoles’s accompaniment is beautifully defined throughout; the perfect foil to Fink’s delicately nuanced, smooth and increasingly sensual singing' (The Independent on Sunday)

'One of the loveliest mezzos of our time' (The Sunday Times)

'Enthusiasts for song recitals should certainly investigate this disc, which offers one beautiful song after the other, running the gamut from elegant art songs to simple, folk-like tunes' (Fanfare, USA)

'The performances are excellent' (Turok’s Choice)

'A delightful recital' (

'On sent qu’elle connaît parfaitement ce répertoire et cette langue' (Répertoire, France)

Canciones amatorias

The title of this CD, taken from the Granados 'colección', means, of course, 'love songs', and that is what it is—a collection of love songs. However, whilst they are all in the Spanish language, they are not all from Spain. In honour of her birthplace, Buenos Aires, Bernarda Fink includes works which should be thought of as Pan-Hispanic rather than a purely 'Spanish', so we have, in addition to those of the Spaniards Granados and Rodrigo and the Cuban Nin, little-known songs by her compatriots Ginastera and Guastavino.

These 27 songs are ravishingly sung by this Argentinian mezzo upon whom we can bestow no higher praise than to declare our belief that she is the successor to the throne of the beloved Victoria de los Angeles. There are some pieces of music and singing here that, once heard, will not be forgotten.

Introduction  EnglishEspañol
Spanish song took a long time to enter the mainstream of the song repertoire. If it can, even now, be said to have done so, it has tended to be through the back door, usually in the final group of a recital designed to provide a lively dessert to offset more serious fare. But it would be too easy, and profoundly wrong, to dismiss all Spanish songs as mere products of the fan-and-fandango tendency—what Graham Johnson, in his brilliant introduction to The Spanish Song Companion (Gollanz, 1992), terms ‘sunlight, energy and high spirits on tap from the armchair travel shop’. To begin with there are many Spains, each with its own flavour and in some cases its own language—not just the Castile of the capital Madrid but also Andalusia, Galicia, Catalonia, the Basque country, each of which gives a different shape to the national culture. Then there is the Spain of overseas, such as Hispanic South America, home of the tango, and of composers like Carlos Guastavino and Alberto Ginastera. It should go without saying that their songs deserve to be recorded separately on their own account. However, in honour of her birthplace, Buenos Aires, my partner Bernarda Fink decided to include some representative works here, in what should perhaps therefore be thought of as a pan-Hispanic rather than a purely ‘Spanish’ collection.

It is a fact that Spanish music has never developed the rigid distinction between classical and popular styles that exists in German and French music. But for this reason it is a music that has never lost touch with its past. Not only its characteristic rhythms and accompanying textures, but its vocal inflections and harmonic colouring are remarkably durable. Given a blind hearing one can sometimes be unsure whether one is listening to a villancico from one of the many composers of the sixteenth century, or a twentieth-century echo from Mompou or Granados. As it happens, many of Granados’s contemporaries in other countries tapped their countries’ more remote past in order to rejuvenate the present. One need look no further afield than the myriad settings of Shakespeare and the lutenist poets by composers like Quilter and Warlock, not to mention the wonderfully evocative settings of Charles d’Orléans by Debussy or of Clément Marot by Enescu and Ravel.

Canciones amatorias by Enrique Granados (1867–1916) belongs in the same mould as these, and deserves to be far better known. Unfortunately it has been overshadowed by his generally much slighter Colección de Tonadillas, perhaps thanks to the connection between the tonadillas’ eighteenth-century majas and majos and the paintings of Goya. Granados—no mean painter himself—was obsessed with Goya and even owned some of his works.

Paradoxically, while the admittedly exquisite tonadillas are treated to the most delicate and guitar-like accompaniments, it is in the piano parts of Canciones amatorias that we find the strongest echo of Goyescas, the piano suite based on Goya which finally gained Granados international recognition with a Paris performance in 1914. Before then his fame had been restricted to Spain, teaching the piano and composing in his native Barcelona. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he had been prevented by illness from going to Paris to study, which explains why the influence of France is much less obvious in Granados than in many of his colleagues. Instead he developed a very personal style of piano writing, balancing his use of folkloristic dance-rhythms with an intricate counterpoint in which inner voices and characteristic mordent-like ornamentation are an essential part of the texture.

Canciones amatorias was first performed in 1913 at the Barcelona debut of the great Catalan soprano Conchita Badía, to whom two of the songs are dedicated. Only two of the Renaissance poems are attributed—Nos 3 and 6, to Luis de Góngora (1561–1627), said by some to have been the greatest poet of the late Golden Age, and among other things a notorious wencher, gambler and dueller—but all seven inhabit a recognisable world of courtly melancholy alternating with somewhat artificial rhetoric. This is under­lined by the piano writing, which frequently suggests a lute or vihuela in its figuration and harmonic colour as in the first and third songs whose texts would not be out of place among the lute songs of John Dowland. But Descúbrase el pensamiento also includes a more tonadilla-like section in 3/4, where the press of emotion seems to find release in physical movement.

In Mañanica era, the sound of bells on midsummer morning is conjured up in a lilting 3/8, its delicate counterpoint weaving in and about the voice part like the breezes and flowers among which Venus is pictured taking the air. Only at the end do music and words reveal the poem’s sad conclusion.

The fourth song Mira que soy niña introduces that well-known staple of song literature, the young girl surprised by love. Its turbulent piano interludes and constant refrain of ‘¡Ay, ay, ay, que me moriré!’ suggest something of the same erotic confusion as Hugo Wolf’s Mörike setting Erstes Liebeslied eines Mädchens, though without that song’s Germanic explosiveness. A similar pianistic undercurrent propels the melismatic energy of No lloréis, ojuelos. At about one minute the shortest song of the cycle, its showy manners are perhaps not quite in tune with the sentiment of the poem, unless Granados is trying to suggest the bravura of pained love. After all this amorous excitement, Iban al pinar, the second of the two Luis de Góngora poems, comes as a breath of fresh air. One can easily imagine the sway of the mountain girls’ skirts in its lilting rhythms and refrain of ‘unas por piñones, otras por bailar’. At first sight the triumphant ending of this song can seem to pose a problem for the interpreter, as it threatens to pre-empt the final song, Gracia mía. It may be for this reason that the Canciones are not always performed complete, and sometimes not in the printed order. However, if taken on the wing and carried off with sufficient élan, the join between the two songs is the reverse of anti-climactic, raising the tonality by a semitone while at the same time plunging into the first recognisably ‘Spanish’ rhythmic pattern of the cycle.

The success of Goyescas encouraged Granados to turn it into an opera, with a libretto by the Valencian journalist and poet Fernando Periquet. His research into the history of the popular Spanish song inspired Granados to compose his own set of tonadillas, with texts by Periquet himself. La maja dolorosa is, exceptionally, a group of three linked songs from this set, a device that allows Granados to widen considerably the emotional and musical scope of the form. In the case of the music this is literally true—in the first song the singer’s dramatic outburst spans a full two octaves from top A flat to bottom G, the piano supporting her with equally widespread chords and mordant harmonies. Links between the songs are suggested by the way the postlude of No 1 is transformed into the gentler, more nostalgic accompaniment of No 2. This in its turn dwindles into the improvisatory guitar pizzicatos that underpin No 3, in a manner much closer to the other tonadillas in Granados’s collection. It is as though the maja, temporarily jolted out of her world by grief, gradually regains her natural environment as her own warmth of heart and consoling philosophy re-assert themselves.

Granados himself died tragically in 1916, when the British ship on which he was returning from New York was torpedoed in the English Channel. He was only 49. Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999) lived to the ripe old age of 98. In childhood he contracted diphtheria, which left him permanently blind. In 1927 he became a pupil of Dukas at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, and in 1933 he married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, who came to have a considerable influence on his song-writing.

During the Spanish Civil War the couple remained in France, only returning home in 1939. A year later Rodrigo premièred the Concierto de Aranjuez, the work with which his name is indissolubly linked in the public mind.

To singers and their pianists, Rodrigo is probably best known for his Cuatro Madrigales Amatorias—four songs that demonstrate well his ability to inject old melodies with a pleasing dash of modernity. His Tres villancicos of 1951, of which two are recorded here, make similar play with a traditional theme, the noel or Christmas song. Pastorcito santo sets a charming poem by Lope de Vega (1562–1635), rescuing its gentle rocking rhythm from monotony with an occasional irregular 5/8 bar. Coplillas de Belén on the other hand is about as far as one could get from English notions of a Christmas carol. The poem is by Rodrigo’s wife Victoria Kamhi, and is treated to a wonderfully deft accompaniment in alternating bars of 3/4 and 6/8 rhythms.

Even more economical but equally effective is the folksong-like Adela—one would be happy for its descending ground bass to go on forever. By contrast Por mayo era is a far more dramatic affair, and arguably one of Rodrigo’s greatest songs. A German version of the same (anonymous) poem appears in Hugo Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch under the title Ach, im Maien war’s, but the two settings could scarcely be more different. Wolf, perhaps distracted by references to green fields and young lovers, seems just sweetly regretful, whereas Rodrigo is severe, almost harsh, the piano’s strummed chords resounding as if down the ages. Perhaps it is just a matter of the difference in climate between the cool of the Vienna woods and the dusty heat of Estremadura, but Rodrigo’s increasing use of dissonance results in an intense climax, as the imprisoned poet curses the killer of his feathered companion.

Equally harsh and heated, Canción del Duero is the last of a cycle of ten songs to texts by the Castilian poet Antonio Machado (1875–1939). Its headlong rush is fuelled by the piano’s deliberately confusing cross-rhythms and hyperactive strumming.

Joaquín Nin (1879–1949) was Cuban by birth, but lived in Spain from his childhood onwards. He was a redoubtable pianist, and studied for a time in Paris with Moszkowski (whose brilliant but not very Hispanic Spanish Dances for piano duet I remember playing with huge enjoyment as a child)—his sister was the writer Anaïs Nin. He was an avid collector of folksong and in 1923 published twenty Cantos populares españoles, all versions of existing melodies that he supplied with elaborate piano accompaniments, together with copious notes and performance indications—very much in the manner of that other colonial original, Percy Grainger, as Graham Johnson points out. So the score of Asturiana is liberally strewn with wiggly lines to indicate a ‘barely perceptible’ ritenuto at the top of almost every phrase. El paño murciano is preceded by a speculation on the origin of the name paño for this particular type of song and dance, suggesting that it derives from the text of an early example of the genre. Surprisingly, Nin doesn’t mention an obvious candidate for the distinction, El paño murano, immortalised by Manuel de Falla in his Siete canciones, where the word refers to a Moorish cloth. In the present case no cloth is mentioned, but the fact that it is addressed to a silversmith (signor platero) suggests a common, mercantile, origin for songs of this type. El vito, whose past is also shrouded by the mists of time, is described by The Spanish Song Companion as ‘a dance full of fire, performed in a tavern by a woman standing on a table before an audience full of bullfighters’. For obvious reasons, most performances of this song abstain from true authenticity in the matter of table-dancing (not to mention the provision of music-loving toreros). Nevertheless Nin’s version of its driving flamenco accompaniment—similar in texture to that of his contemporary Fernando Obradors—gives an appropriate flavour of wine, cigarillos and stamping heels.

St Vitus’s dance is apparently no less an affliction for South Americans, to judge by the first and last songs of Alberto Ginastera’s Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas. Both Chacarera and Gato involve the pianist in mind-bending combinations of triple and duple rhythms, thankfully slowed to a gentle lilt in the wistful cadences of the central song, Zamba. Ginastera (1916–1983) was a leading figure in Argentinean music, both as composer and teacher, a founder-member of the Composers’ League of Argentina and honoured by academic foundations not only in Buenos Aires, but also in Chile, Brazil and the USA. A confirmed nationalist in his early works, he later adopted a more radical style that he called Neo-Expressionism, partly as a result of studies in the United States. Even early folk-based works like these songs (composed in 1943 at the age of 27) are spiced with modernistic tonal clashes and Bartókian cross-rhythms, and have a generally leaner texture than those of his more traditional contemporaries. This not only lends bite to the more extrovert numbers but also tempers the sweetness of the lullaby, Arrorró, and gives a sense of space to the distant calls in the piano introduction to Triste.

Canción al arbol del olvido is another characteristically lean-textured song, underpinned by a hypnotically repetitive rhythm in the piano part. Its poet, Francisco Silva y Valdes, was clearly fond of trees—he also provided the text for the best-known song of Carlos Guastavino, La rosa y el sauce.

Whereas Ginastera’s work covered most genres of composition, including opera, ballet, orchestral and film music, Carlos Guastavino (1912–2000) wrote almost exclusively for voice and piano, with some two hundred titles to his credit. Given his feeling for melody and lush piano textures, it is not surprising that his songs are a well-established part of the Argentinean cultural landscape. Cita is typical of his mellifluous style, with the piano’s continuous quaver motion now evoking the gently flowing stream, now picking out the rasping call of the cicada. La palomita has a more archaic flavour (Argentinians, too, can summon up their past when necessary) appropriate to the spirit of its eighteenth-century poem. But La rosa y el sauce, a kind of cross between Rachmaninov’s Vocalise and Granados’s Maja and the Nightingale, is the real thing, a full-blown hit. There are some pieces of music that once heard are never forgotten, and this is one of them. A perfect encore piece, it was a favourite of the great Conchita Badía, who instituted the tradition (sanctioned in the score and followed by all singers ever since) of singing along wordlessly with the piano postlude.

Roger Vignoles © 2002

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