A Danish duo on searing form in one of contemporary music’s great mavericks

Christine Bernsted: Auerbach

The Strad Issue: May 2023

Description: A Danish duo on searing form in one of contemporary music’s great mavericks

Musicians: Christine Bernsted (violin) Ramez Mhaanna (piano)

Works: Auerbach: 24 Preludes for violin and piano

Catalogue number: Naxos 8.574464


Soviet-born, now US-resident composer Lera Auerbach took Chopin’s 24 Preludes op.28 as a model for the overall structure and tonalities of her own 1999 cycle for violin and piano, one in each key and its relative minor, obediently following the cycle of fifths all the way round until it starts again. You’d hardly know it, though, from the often grotesque, sometimes violent music she magically shoehorns into these blazing miniatures, whose relationship with functional tonality seems perpetually up for discussion.

There are distinct nods to Shostakovich, Gubaidulina and even the uncompromising dissonances of Ustvolskaya in among Auerbach’s heart-on-sleeve writing, and the Danish duo of violinist Christine Bernsted and pianist Ramez Mhaanna rise to its challenges magnificently. Bernsted, in particular, sounds like an entirely different player from piece to piece – thin and reedy in the lamenting no.1, frenetically arpeggiating in the flamboyant no.14, ice-cold in the fearful tremolos of no.16, for example – as she responds vividly to Auerbach’s wide-ranging musical demands. Both players, though, throw themselves into the composer’s high-emotion sound world with fierce commitment, to the extent that a full traversal of all 24 pieces can prove a draining experience – or, perhaps more accurately, a deeply cathartic one. Recorded sound is close and clear.