sat 20/07/2024

Anna Prohaska, Eric Schneider, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Anna Prohaska, Eric Schneider, Wigmore Hall

Anna Prohaska, Eric Schneider, Wigmore Hall

Gifted young soprano triumphs in a kaleidoscopic tour of war's battlefields

Anna Prohaska, all dressed for songs about warHolge Hage / DG

Judging from the photos used to publicise Anna Prohaska’s new album – one of them is dancing merrily above this review – this gorgeously gifted soprano should have been singing this spin-off recital wearing an army great coat. She compromised with a severe black tunic and trousers with military references and a slight science-fiction cut: she could almost have been a futuristic soldier from the old Korda film Things to Come. 

In her case the things that came were the complete tracks of her Deutsche Grammophon CD Behind the Lines: songs from around Europe and America about war and the pity of war; songs of drummer boys, valiant grenadiers, mothers, ghosts. Joan of Arc made an appearance too, via Liszt’s dramatic scena Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher. As she launched her programme’s European tour I wondered if Prohaska’s voice – bright, lightweight and magically lyrical – would actually suit a repertoire marked with male bravado, bitter ironies and intense cries of pain. I need not have been bothered. Supported by Eric Schneider’s always conscientious piano accompaniment, she was magnificent, and very penetrating in her top register. When she sang Liszt’s repeated line about saving France I’m sure France heard her. 

Along the way, Prohaska suggested that she was impressively fluent in every language

Lower down, if the notes sped by fast, the sunshine of her voice did, it’s true, get a bit clouded over. Hugo Wolf’s Eichendorff setting "Der Soldat" certainly needed clearer projection for the words to carry their full zing. But, whatever the register traversed, Prohaska’s emotional identification and acting skills always helped fill out the song’s picture. No characterisation was better than the child thrilled with her mother going off to war in Eisler’s typically trenchant "Kriegslied eines Kindes". The grisly abandon of the child’s drum imitations; the relish when Kaiser Wilhelm’s name was intoned; the white calm that descended when the child visualised the mother wounded in hospital: every line of this wonderful song delivered a sharp sardonic kick. 

What joy, too, to find two artists creating a concept album and recital that actually makes musical and intellectual sense. The 25 songs about the dreams and realities of soldiering often involved big jumps in style: another of Eisler’s firecracker songs, from the Hollywood Liederbook, exploded right after one an exquisite meringue by Roger Quilter, "Fear No More the Heat o' the Sun". But in this year marking the anniversary of the First World War, every juxtaposition, sometimes bridged by songs sharing the same key, made the audience think and feel. Prohaska and Schneider’s most stunning coup was to follow the high romance of Schubert’s "Ellens Gesang", to flowery words by Sir Walter Scott, with the Expressionist screams of a poem by Georg Trakl, belligerently set by a young Wolfgang Rihm. I needed the interval to recover. 

Along the way, Prohaska suggested that she was impressively fluent in every language, not perhaps surprising given her own mixed family background (Austrian, English, Irish, Czech). In Rachmaninov I felt the Russian earth move. French vowels fluted impeccably in Poulenc’s "Le retour du sergent" and the peaceable encore from Fauré. American English bobbed up too in a button-holing trio of Charles Ives, including the marvellous "In Flanders Field", and the concluding duo, less musically satisfying, from Weill’s settings of Walt Whitman. 

But German remained her chief meat and drink, with the emotional peak probably reached in Mahler’s Wunderhorn song about the girl visited by her soldier sweetheart’s ghost: a song indeed heard many times before, but rarely with Prohaska’s degree of lyrical tenderness, or so much of the art that conceals art.  Even if she’d sung this recital wearing bright pink, we’d still have been left heartbroken, lying at her feet.

What joy to find two artists creating a concept album and recital that actually makes musical and intellectual sense


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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