Preludophilia: Lera Auerbach

PictureI just finished listening to Twenty-four Preludes for Piano, Op. 41 (1998) by Russian-American composer Lera Lvovna Auerbach (b. 1973). I have not heard of this talented composer whose works, it turns out, are quite widely performed and acclaimed. Over 50 works ranging from the piano miniature (the instrument she tours on) to the orchestral. Recently she's been occupied with an opera based on the life of Gogol, due to premier in November 2011.
As a performance, these pieces were marvelously executed and full of emotion. I had the score with me (through the university's interlibrary loan system!) and her playing is extremely accurate without losing the human quality or waning in interest. A few things are apparent to me through this initial listening experience.
  1. Pedaling: her pedaling indications and instructions are very involved. She allows the use of the Sostenuto Pedal (a mechanism not available on Russian pianos) in Prelude 17 in A-flat. Often she has written to hold down the Damper Pedal for long stretches of time; in Prelude 11 in B for the entire prelude, Prelude 1 in C until measure 19, and in Prelude 16 in b-flat insisted on through a dissonant g-flat/b-flat to f-a motion.
  2. Ad libitum: formal organization of small pieces is always interesting. She tends to use ad lib introductions which explore timbres and registers, before diving into an ostinato-driven body. Prelude 4 in e begins with a fierce, Stravinsky-Romanza-ish, bass grumble before the Alberti Bass sustained Nostalgico. Interestingly she also has cadenza-like "outros" which would serve the same function as the perfunctory V-I cadence at the end of some preludes (Chopin 2, 12, 22, etc.) except for their harmonic ambiguity. Prelude 9 in E, a Prokofiev flavored, grotesque dance, ends after a fermata of silence in a sixteenth note cushion of tonal ambiguity, ending in E with a G-sharp and G-natural.
  3. Harmonic Series: She like the harmonic series. Prelude 11 in B is nothing but whole notes playing out the harmonic series. Should sound amazing live with a good piano and a resonant room. Prelude 17 in A-flat begins the same way and then veers off into something more song-like.
  4. Cyclical: The whole piece is definitely meant to be played as a cohesive whole. The last Prelude 24 in d brings back themes from previous preludes such as the repeated note/Alberti Bass on Prelude 4 in e, the strident chords of Prelude 1 in C, and the major ninths of Prelude 21 in B-flat.

While all of these pieces were amazing in their own way, I most enjoyed Prelude 16 in b-flat for its tragic power. Prelude 18 in f also gets a mention for the expansion of Debussy's Pas sur la niege into a fierce ostinato. Last one: Prelude 19 in E-flat is gorgeous and dramatic with fist clusters and a Scriabin inspired quintuplet.

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