Soprano Anna Prohaska Unpacks Four Centuries of Soldier Songs

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This week's featured albums include a collection of soldier songs, inspired by the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. Plus, we sample lighter releases of Sarasate and Weber.

Behind the Lines
Anna Prohaska, soprano
Eric Schneider, piano
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at

A hundred years ago this week, the First World War broke out, involving more than three dozen countries and leaving 17 million dead. The anniversary has inspired the young, Vienna-based soprano Anna Prohaska to consider the vast repertory of soldiers' songs across four centuries and spanning a variety of styles and nationalities (German, English, French and Russian).

Prohaska chose 25 songs for the collection and while all have an undercurrent of tragedy, some also serve as odes to heroism, including Wolf's "Der Tambour" and Weill's "Beat! Beat! Drums!" (1942), described as an impassioned call to arms. Others emphasize the grotesque aspects of war (Schumann's "Der Soldat," Poulenc's "Le retour du sergent"), or feelings of grief (Mahler's "Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen," Schubert's "Kriegers Ahnung"). Prohaska, who has a light, clear and adaptable voice, recently performed Ives's "In Flanders Fields" during a special session of German parliament. A stirring version of that song is also included here.

Sarasate: Transcriptions and Arrangements
Tianwa Yang, violin
Markus Hadulla, piano
Available at

One doesn’t encounter the music of Spanish composer Pablo Sarasate very often in the concert hall, aside from the occasional encore. But violinists still seem to relish the excesses, freedoms and charms of these showpieces and they are well-represented on recordings. Earlier this year, violinist Tianwa Yang and pianist Markus Hadulla released the fourth volume in a Sarasate series on Naxos. It focuses on many of the composer’s lesser-known delights, arrangements of Chopin waltzes and nocturnes, of French baroque pieces, plus some versions of Handel and Bach that will take you back to an earlier time. Yang and Hadulla seem to have a lot of fun with this music, playing with style and finesse.

Weber: Clarinet Concertos Nos. 1 and 2; Concertino for Clarinet
Alexander Fiterstein, clarinet
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra
Martin West, conductor
Available at

This release falls in the “in case you missed it” (ICYMI) category, having been recorded in 2011 and released last fall. It features the accomplished young clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, who is joined by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra led by Martin West in Weber’s two clarinet concertos and his Concertino in E-flat major. Weber composed these two works in an effort to show off the lyrical and virtuosic capabilities of the clarinet, still a relatively new instrument in the early 19th century. Fiterstein makes the athletic virtuosity of the finales of both scores seem like child’s play, ripping through the scale passages and dramatic mood swings. He’s equally convincing in the lyrical slow movements, applying a buoyant quality that keeps the mood fresh and never pedantic. The Concertino is icing on the cake.