Argentinean mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink sings beautifully in this collection of three French song cycles, Berlioz's Nuits d'été, and Ravel's Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques and Shéhérazade. The two composers, although worlds apart in their temperaments, are well paired with these songs, both in the brilliance and individuality of the orchestration and the overt sensuality of the music. The six songs of Nuits d'été, set to texts by Théophile Gautier, reveal Berlioz at his most intoxicatingly and appealingly romantic. The aphoristically brief Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques are based on French translations of Greek texts, but the charming and melodically vibrant music is Ravel's own. His Shéhérazade, a setting of three poems by Tristan Klingsor, is a distillation of his fascination with Asian culture and his musical impressionism.
Fink's warm and creamy voice is ideally suited to this repertoire. She sings with absolute security, from her thrillingly resonant lowest register to her floating top, and her seamless legato is spectacular, especially in the Berlioz. The subtlety of her interpretations and the variety of vocal colors and dramatic vividness she brings to these diverse songs give them real emotional urgency. Kent Nagano leads the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in strongly atmospheric performances that emphasize the inventiveness (and occasional quirkiness) of both composers' orchestration. The sound is clean and spacious, with both a good blend and easily audible instrumental details, but at a few points the orchestra comes close to overpowering the soloist.