This recorded set effectively provides a history of the classics of 20th-century Spanish song in less than 70 minutes. Like their colleagues in Britain and Hungary, many Spanish composers began that century by returning to nature and collecting folksongs. The works that followed were something of a ‘writing degree zero’ – a move to begin again without the over-layering of late-Romantic form and instrumentation.
Falla and Granados (and, after them, Rodrigo) – more like Bartók than Vaughan Williams – were rarely content just to re-present the old modes and melodies. After launching his deceptively sophisticated Seven Spanish Folksongs in 1914 – rightly the opening number of this set – Falla wrote that ‘the spirit is more important than the letter in folksong. The rhythm, the modality and the melodic intervals determined by their inflections and their cadences constitute the essence of these songs.’
With her Slovenian (ie central European) parentage and Buenos Aires upbringing, Bernarda Fink is ideally placed to dip one performing toe in each of the classical and linguistic/folkloric streams of this music. Together with the pianism of Anthony Spiri – who clearly knows how to let his hair down with a concert grand at lower dynamic levels – she presents compelling versions of material which is not short of recorded competitors. Even if you are anchored already to a favourite version of those Falla songs (Berganza, de los Angeles, Horne for older starters), you should try to hear this approach, which perfectly captures the alternately sad or mocking irony of the words.
The Rodrigo cycle or part-cycles should come as a pleasant addition to the stereotyped view of this composer as charming Romantic reactionary for guitarists – try the Four Sephardic Songs. The Granados Tonadillas are like a miniature Ring cycle of pictorial evocations of the Goya age. If you want the same repertoire more folky, with guitars and less ‘classical’, then Liliana Rodriguez (Accent) should be investigated; but Fink and Spiri have a big success here and the repertoire is usefully central for collectors.