by Walter Simmons
AUERBACH: Preludes (24) and Postlude for Violin and Piano. T’filah • Vadim Gluzman (vn); Angela Yoffe (pn) • BIS CD-1242 (68:06)
This is a pretty impressive recording: The major entry is a set of 24 preludes (sequenced across the circle of fifths, in alternating major and relative minor keys) for violin and piano, the Op. 46 (1999) of Lera Auerbach, then 26, a composer from the Siberian region, but living in the United States since 1991. The cycle is given an absolutely stupendous performance by the contemporaneous husband-and-wife team of violinist Vadim Gluzman and pianist Angela Yoffe, for whom the work was written. Auerbach, who has written similar collections of preludes for cello and piano and for piano solo as well, is not only a composer: she is also a pianist, with degrees in both piano and composition from Juilliard, where she studied the former with Joseph Kalichstein and the latter with Milton Babbitt. Although it strains credulity, at the age of 12 she is said to have composed an opera that was performed throughout Russia. In addition, she is a writer, with two published novels and several volumes of poetry to her credit. In 1996 she was named Poet of the Year by the International Pushkin Society.
The 24 Preludes display a postmodern eclecticism, drawing upon a wide range of compositional styles and techniques, of which Auerbach reveals a fluent and mature grasp. The dominant stylistic influence or reference point is probably Shostakovich, but this is neither pervasive nor distracting. Displaying a postmodern eclecticism, the short pieces-each averaging about 2 ½ minutes-cover a broad expressive range from haunting sweetness, through a rustic, folklike charm, to abject terror. The writing for violin is similarly varied, drawing upon techniques both conventional and unusual. As noted earlier, the performers, who play the pieces as if they were established masterpieces, lend the music a level of advocacy that would make most composers drool with envy. Further contributing to the impact of the presentation, the sound quality is full, rich, and spacious, but also transparently clear. My only reservation is that some of the Preludes are no more than single gestures extended through repetitive patterns. Now, of course, many short character pieces are formed from repetitive patterns, but that does not preclude the thorough development of other ideas via such patterns. Many of Auerbach’s Preludes lack any real development. I would very much like to hear what she does with larger forces and more extended architectural spans.
The two other pieces included on this recent release are of similar scope to the Preludes. T’filah (Prayer) for violin solo was composed in 1996; shaped with mature artistry, it is exactly the sort of piece one would expect from its title after hearing the Preludes. Postlude is a simple, sad, romantic melody. Written in memory of a friend, it is both touching and subtle.
Scouts of young compositional talent will definitely want to hear this recording. Of gifted young composers there is no shortage today. But my question is this: Where is the audience for whom these remarkable youth are writing? It sometimes seems as if there are more talented living composers than there are listeners who care to hear their work. Where does this all lead?