Right out of the gate, composer Lera Auerbach grabs the listener’s attention with a mournful slow movement that makes its point without wasting a note, and then she swings into a terrifying 47-second allegro that seems simultaneously chock-a-block and spare. Thus begins her 24 Preludes for Violoncello and Piano (1999), a 50-minute sequence of short pieces that constantly shift character as they wend their way through each of the major and minor keys. Their genealogy reaches to chromatically plotted cycles by Bach (who is recalled through several allusions), Chopin, and Shostakovich — but especially Shostakovich, the composer to whom Auerbach is most often compared. Born in 1973 in Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, she inherited her predecessor’s insistence on emotional commitment, his horror of blandness, and his penchant for unanticipated juxtapositions. Nothing is off-limits: individual preludes can suggest Baroque dances, ballroom waltzes, folk ballads, rock-guitar riffs — even, in one movement, Mozart’s Zauberflöte Overture attempted on a dismally mistuned piano. The cycle is a textbook of modern cello technique, and cellist Ani Aznavoorian is so expert that she might have written that textbook herself. Auerbach is a dazzling pianist throughout the cycle and in her impressive Sonata for Cello Piano (2002). This captivating CD concludes with a haunting Postlude, a recasting of one of the preludes, now with prepared piano and, as the composer observes, suggesting an ancient ruin.
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