courtesy of Odradek Records
About a month ago Odradek Records released a recording of the Delta Piano Trio entitled The mirror with three faces. The trio consists of three Dutch musicians, violinist Gerard Spronk, cellist Irene Enzlin, and pianist Vera Kooper, who only met because they all happened to be in Salzburg (in Austria) in the fall of 2013. Pretty much on-the-spot they “decided to learn some piano trios” (their words in the album’s accompanying booklet), receiving coaching from Wolfgang Redik of the Vienna Piano Trio and Rainer Schmidt of the Hagen Quartet.
The repertoire they decided to pursue when they were first getting started including the two piano trios of Lera Auerbach. This was because pianist Kooper had “stumbled upon Lera Auerbach’s piano music” when she was “searching for contemporary piano repertoire on YouTube” (again quotes from the booklet). The title of the album is a reflection on the title that Auerbach gave to her second trio “Triptych—This Mirror Has Three Faces.” The faces belong (so to speak) to the three sets of 24 preludes she had composed, each covering all of the major and minor keys. These were written for solo piano, violin-piano duo, and cello-piano duo. However, the title also refers to Auerbach’s interest in the details of intricate structure, in this case the folding and unfolding processes involved in viewing a triptych altarpiece.
Those who have been following my writing for some time know that, by living in San Francisco, I have been able to benefit from the close relationship that Auerbach has with San Francisco Performances (SFP). Indeed, the most recent benefit came at the end of last month with the world premiere of Labyrinth, which was commissioned by SFP and written in honor of SFP Founder and President Emeritus Ruth Felt. (For the record, I felt it was appropriate to describe the program that Auerbach prepared for that solo piano recital as a diptych.)
Those benefits have included opportunities to listen to both the solo piano preludes and the set for cello and piano (which Alisa Weilerstein performed with Auerbach), as well as the second trio. Indeed, between concert performances and recordings, I was about as well equipped as one could imagine to approach the trio, which Auerbach herself described as taking all 72 of her preludes and letting them bump into each other (and possibly also reflect on each other from different angles, as if viewed through a tailor’s mirror, which has the same structure as a triptych). The most salient of my memories was the twelfth cello prelude, which subsequently became a “Postlude” for both violin and cello with piano accompaniment and then “reflected” into the final movement of the trio, called a “Postlude” to depict the folding in of the triptych panels. Auerbach herself seems to have appreciated that she was getting quite a lot out of that one theme, since the trio score instructs the performers to imitate “an old record.”
I have now listened to enough of Auerbach’s music to appreciate her ludic approach to composition and her capacity for wit that seasons the games she sets herself to play. I am not yet sure how much of that spirit has found its way into Delta’s recording; but I have no quibbles at all with their allegiance to the letter of her text, so to speak. This will make an excellent companion to the available recordings of the preludes. Those who are really interested in how those preludes are reflected in the trio can navigate their way through all of the relevant tracks to their heart’s content. For my part, I am simply happy to have a solid meat-and-potatoes account of the trio itself.
For that matter I am just as glad to have now a recording of the first trio in my library. Composed in 1992 and revised in 1994, this piece predates the three sets of preludes (all of which were composed in 1999). One can detect influences from both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but one can also find nods to Dmitri Shostakovich. (This trio was one of Auerbach’s first compositions after she left Russia and moved to the West.)
Indeed, any “Shostakovich connection” is probably enhanced by the fact that the Delta album begins with that composer’s Opus 67 (second) trio in E minor. That trio was composed in 1944, placing it after the Opus 65 (eighth) symphony in C minor, so bleak that it suggests that the Second World War had pushed to the composer to the brink of his breaking point. Nevertheless, Opus 67 makes it clear that Shostakovich could still venture into new areas of darkness; and Delta has performed it in such as way as to make that darkness visible (as John Milton put it when describing Hell in Paradise Lost).