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Lera Auerbach Preludes and Dreams

24 Preludes for piano Op 41
10 Dreams Op 45
Chorale Fugue and Postlude Op 31

Bis –CD-1462

What follows modernism? Post-modernism of course. But then? In most of culture, the world itself has intervened; globalisation, for want of a better word, has also produced a diversified, multi-cultural dimension that has kept theory and deconstruction at bay.

When writing for the piano, however, it is much harder to escape the weight of tradition; nor does Auerbach try. Her work is recognisably post-modern, its originality deliberately cobbled together from the shards of what has come before; there is a very conscious homage to past forms (24 Preludes, a longer tripartite work) and this sense of remote familiarity is the anchor that renders it easy to follow.

Just in the first few preludes, we hear echoes of Schubert's Der Doppelgaenger , Wolf's Oh, waer' dein Haus, dursichtig wie ein Glas from the Italian song book, and Beethoven's Op 101. Later on comes a clear homage to Chopin's etude Op 25/12, as well as allusions to sundry Debussy preludes, even Janacek's The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away from the Overgrown Path .

Auerbach's playing of her own music is incisive and virtuosic, technically brilliant and rhythmically engaging. Her playing is less convincing when less fierce; it can be static rather than chorale-like, for example. There is a fine, modern recording with an appropriate brightness and an attractively presented disc.

But in the end, I remain impressed but sceptical; I do not immediately hear the distinctiveness of voice I hope for in modern composition. How has this music moved on from Bartok? Why, for example, is there a dream so closely based on Beethoven 5 – is it a Hindemith-style Gebrauchmusik version, or something less ironic about how deeply that opening phrase is ingrained within us? The programme notes do not help; they read far better in German than in English or French, because the big abstract concept nouns have a Rilke-like resonance; nevertheless, in telling us little about individual pieces and everything about how Auerbach believes ‘sound is communication,' ‘sound is a language,' the essay is totally empty for the empirical English.

Auerbach's connections to the musical mainstream are clearly commendable, and her impressive CV (she is still young) shows not only that the musical establishment has taken to her, but that she is a polymath with a second career as a writer. A name to follow then, although as yet, I don't ‘get' it.

Ying Chang

© Peter Grahame Woolf