Bernarda Fink and Marcos Fink’s Canciónes Argentinas: Piazzola, Guastavino and Others

We don’t normally think of Argentina when we think of “classical” music. Well, time to do some re-thinking.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a group of composers emerged in Argentina, the “Generación de 900,” that in many respects echoed movements in Europe and America at the time, particularly their emphasis on establishing a “national” music. As in the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams and Bèla Bartók in Europe, and Charles Ives and later Aaron Copland in the U.S., these Argentine composers, most notably Alberto Williams, assimilated the latest trends in composition while bringing vernacular and folk material into their music.

One fruit of this effort was the canción de cámara, the Argentine equivalent to the German Lied and the French chanson.. It was in the succeeding generation, however, with such composers as Carlos López Buchardo, Manuel Gómez Carillo, Felipe Boero and others featured in this recording, that the canción reached its full development. The latest composer in this anthology, and one who made another contribution to the form, is Astor Piazzola, who transformed the sultry Argentine tango into a form of chamber music.

Often moody, but possessed of a surprising range of feeling, these songs to reveal a unique flavor — a distinctly non-European content within a European framework. It’s rather hard to describe, though Floro Ugarte’s Caballito criollo and Alberto Williams’ Milaga calabacera, with their somewhat melancholy melodies and distinctly Latin rhythms within a formal structure that would not be out of place in Vienna or Paris, exemplify exactly what I mean.

Mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink has built an impressive reputation in recent years, working with the likes of René Jacobs and Nikolaus Harnoncourt in material ranging from Monteverdi to Mozart to Dvorák. If I had to find a comparison to her voice, it would be a fine single-malt Highland scotch, light, potent, and subtle. She displays a remarkable range of expression, from a Mozartian clarity to an earthy flatness, always right on the mark. The happy surprise is the bass-baritone of her brother Marcos, which one commentator likened to chocolate. Perhaps, but it is a fine South American chocolate, with that edge of bitterness under the velvet sweetness and a beautifully constructed sound. The highest compliment I can pay to pianist Carmen Piazzini is that her accompaniment is almost completely transparent, deft, nuanced, and blending beautifully with the voices. The performances are, indeed, not only intelligent, but beautiful.

(Harmonia Mundi, 2006)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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