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Album review: Compelling, eclectic sound of Lera Auerbach's 24 Preludes for cello and piano

By John Terauds on March 27, 2013

Lera Auerbach
Lera Auerbach

Russian-born American pianist and composer Lera Auerbach is a remarkably busy person who still manages to come up with fascinating new music in a variety of genres, including opera. Her love of miniatures set in a larger framework includes a set of 24 Preludes for cello and piano which she has recorded with Ani Aznavoorian for the Cedille label.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Ever since J.S. Bach decided to show how equal-temperament tuning would allow a keyboard to be played in any key, composers have been inspired to write sets of pieces that range across the 12 major and 12 minor keys.

“Re-establishing the value and expressive possibilities of all major and minor tonalities is as valid at the beginning of the 21st century as it was during Bach’s time,” writes Auerbach in her album notes. She is referring to the inspiration a new generation of composers is finding in tonal music.

Auerbach is also an emblem of the current love for eclecticism, pulling in a variety of influences — not the least of which is Bach, in the solo cello Prelude No.13, of which I’ve included the opening measures here:

The styles range from overt borrowing, as we’ve just heard, to more original compositions, some in the easily accessible mould of movie music, others more dramatically expressed, perhaps in the mode of Shostakovich, others in a more abstract, ethereal vein like Olivier Messiaen.

Auerbach wrote the Preludes as a 26-year-old in 1999, and they continue to enjoy steady performances because of the composer’s clever alternation of styles and moods. It has even been set as a ballet (which cellist Ani Aznavoorian is performing live in Hamburg, Germany this season).

Aznavoorian, who is based in Chicago, is a chameleon with her bow, making her instrument take on multiple personalities in just a few (not so) easy strokes. Auerbach is a spirited, ember-spitting partner at the piano, making for compelling listening from beginning to end.

The album, Celloquy, also includes an intense, often angry, classically-structured four-movement Sonata for Cello and Piano from 2002, relieved by a slow, meditative 7-year-old Postlude to close the recorded programme.

There’s a lot of great, satisfying listening on this disc.

You can find all the details, as well as audio samples, here.

Here are Auerbach and Aznavoorian in live performance four years ago with Prelude Nos 23 and 24 (F Major and D minor) (Their recorded interpretations have more motion):

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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