Edinburgh International Festival 2014 (13) – Behind the Lines 1914-2014: Anna Prohaska (soprano), Eric Schneider (piano), Queen’s Hall, 18.08.2014 (SRT)
This was an expertly curated, intelligently programmed recital, which fits in perfectly with the 2014 Festival’s War theme and was so much more fulfilling than a regular set of song cycles. Entitled Behind the Lines 1914-2014, Anna Prohaska has assembled a group of songs which all variously “throw light on a different aspect of a soldier’s life” (her words). It’s expertly done, and too good to use in just one venue, of course: she has also done it at the Salzburg Festival, and the programme is identical to that of her recent disc on Deutsche Grammophon.
The variety on offer is exciting, as is the way she blends various elements together. Klärchen’s song from Beethoven’s Egmont, for example, sits brilliantly between a traditional folk song and Eisner’s mock-innocent Kriegslied eines Kindes. The contrast in the two Wolf songs (Der Tambour and Der Soldat II) is thrilling – one an innocent dream, the other a terrified nightmare – and I liked the way the first half built up to the punishing (and technically demanding) dissonances of Rihm’s Untergang. The second half may have been more “classical” with Schumann, Liszt and Mahler, but it set the seal on a very well chosen morning.
As for the voice, Prohaska has a rich, full soprano, full of careful inflections and a vibrant middle. If she was a tiny bit pinched at the top then that was probably because she is recovering from illness (as an EIF official told us at the beginning of the programme). She isn’t afraid to set herself some challenging repertoire, but she can also milk some gorgeous sounds out of, for example, Schubert’s Ellens Gesang, which was the musical highlight of the first half, and she could teach Ian Bostridge a thing or two about the correct mood for Kurt Weill’s Whitman songs. An exciting morning, for both the content and the artists.