By Ted AYALA
Whether or not Arnold Schoenberg actually uttered the well-known quote about there still being great music to be composed in the key of C major, there is no doubt that whoever said that was right. The concept of tonality—even after being dragged and battered through the ideological minefields of 20th century musical discourse—remains valid for the modern composer. Perhaps more so today than at any time since the 1950s.
Even so, for a composer to attempt a set of 24 preludes in all major and minor keys takes some daring these days. Not that so open an embrace and reaffirmation of the possibilities of tonality would cause anybody to bat an eye. (Most composers I meet today are all too happy to express their disdain of Schoenberg’s attempt to emancipate and democratize all twelve notes of the chromatic scale.) But composing under the shadows of Chopin, Scriabin, and Shostakovich must be daunting, to say the least,
But according to composer Lera Auerbach during her brief words preceding Camerata Pacifica’s October 24 performance at Zipper Hall of her 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano—itself preceded immediately in the composer’s catalog by two other sets of 24 preludes—the experience of composing the work left her feeling “athletic.”
There certainly was a bounding, athletic energy that coursed through the work; it crackled with a Shostakovichian rhythmic power. One is tempted to think of the music as Shostakovich on steroids. But Auerbach is very much her own woman, employing a lyrical fluency wholly unlike that of her terse predecessor.
Though the music ultimately revolves around a firm tonal center, Auerbach often employs a great deal of chromaticism and wild tone clusters that threaten its hold; the very struggle to keep a grip on the tonal center itself part of the work’s dramatic appeal. This is big, broad, brawny music. With a performance of the entire cycle lasting nearly an hour, the music spans not only all twenty-four keys, but the whole gamut of emotions—writing in agony one moment, soaring ecstatically the next.
The performances by cellist Azni Aznavoorian and the composer herself on piano bristled with muscular vigor and ferocity. Aznavoorian’s cello swooned, wailed, screeched, cackled, wept, while Auerbach conjured fearsome towers of sound from her piano. A definitive performance of a remarkable addition to the chamber repertoire.
Auerbach’s muscular 24 Preludes are indeed remarkable in every way; a modern classic of its kind.
Mozart’s Divertimento in E-flat, K563 provided a sunny contrast to the Auerbach. The Camerata Pacifica musicians delivered playing that that was refined, yet aglow with a Romantic warmth that invested an attractive voluptuousness to this 18th century gem.