Bernarda Fink

What strikes you immediately when you hear the singing of mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink is her sense of proportion and integrity. Every note, phrase and ornament seems to serve the song. There is no cheap swagger or showiness there, just a driving desire to give expressively intelligent realizations of a score. To listen to Fink's Tuesday evening recital presented by the Vocal Arts Society at the Kennedy Center was to experience a refined yet engaging artistic display.

Fink's subtle way of combining smooth Apollonian and passionate Dionysian elements first came out in several Schubert songs. She limned the flowing melodies of songs including "You Are Peace," D. 776, and "Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel," D. 118, with a rich, golden tone. Similarly, the elegant mezzo-soprano seasoned a set of Brahms songs with little flickers of light and color while drawing out the music's broader contours.

Paired with the Schubert and the Brahms on the program were two Dvorak song cycles, whose composer Fink has championed lately in recordings and in concert. While eight of Dvorak's "Love Songs," Op. 83, were beautifully sung, it was in "Songs From the Dvur Kralove Manuscript," Op. 7, where the singer's rhapsodic side truly came out, touching on moods of joy, sorrow and fervid ardor.

Throughout this stellar evening, pianist Roger Vignoles provided sensitive accompaniment, enriching the music's textures and perfectly complementing Fink's artistry.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

Wolfgang Holzmair

How to explain the magic of a lieder recital? Baritone Wolfgang Holzmair filled an evening with this very special genre of music Tuesday at the Austrian Embassy. It was truly a memorable, all-absorbing event, and Holzmair's pianist, Russell Ryan, played no small part.

A lied is not simply any song in German. What draws you in is the spellbinding way a composer turns a lyric poem, a genre already ringing with musical timbres, into music itself -- tonal beauty that transports you into even loftier ecstatic realms. Holzmair reached these rarely attained heights at the embassy, its handsome atrium providing all the intimate resonance a lied demands.

The baritone sang entrancing lieder of love lost or gained and folk song settings of Brahms, along with Gesaenge (songs based on more expansive declamatory poetry) from his gripping "Romanzen aus Magelone." Here he sculpted phrases, gradually expanding them into a greater whole, every possible facet of color, vibrato, breath and intensity at his command. Ryan re-created cimbalom and percussive effects with sheer virtuosity. Some fetching Moravian folk song arrangements of Janacek capped a glorious Embassy Series concert.

-- Cecelia Porter