Recital by Anna Prohaska at the Edinburgh Festival

My experience with lieder recitals which, though devoted to a single theme, jump around between languages, styles and composers has not always a been happy. The programme “Behind the Lines 1914-2014” given by  Anna Prohaska and  Eric Schneider at Edinburgh’s  Queen’s Hall demonstrated exactly how to succeed with this formula. It was a revelation.To begin with, the songs and their ordering had been most astutely chosen.  While war and the soldier’s lot were the focus, the juxtaposition of different moods – hope, despair; aggression, resignation; glory, ignominy;  elation, pathos – turned it into a multi-faceted experience requiring a range of emotional expression.

Not the least remarkable feature of  Anna Prohaska’s performance was her capacity most successfully to meet this challenge, with variations of vocal colour and dynamics, and to do so with such interpretive skill. Her soprano had the purity necessary for the lyrical passages, but also the volume and penetration for aggression and hysteria. Why a plea was made at the beginning for the audience’s indulgence in the light of her health remains a mystery. As the chap next to me observed, if this was a bad day for the voice, what must it be like on a good  day? Immaculate enunciation in four different languages and more than this: an American intonation for the Ives songs and a Scots accent for a setting of Hector Macneill. But when all else is said, what lingers most in the memory is the ability to communicate to the audience her own inner emotional response to what she was singing. A truly outstanding recital; one of the best I have experienced in recent years.