Arcanum – Sonata for viola and piano

Composer: Lera Auerbach (b. 1973)
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Composer: Lera Auerbach (b. 1973)

Performance date: 02/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 2013

Duration: 00:22:21

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vn, vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Dana Zemtsov - [viola]

Dana Zemtsov [viola], Nathalia Milstein [piano]

Lera Auerbach [born 1973]

Arcanum – Sonata for viola and piano [2013] IRISH PREMIERE

1. Advenio 

2. Cinis

3. Postremo

4. Adempte

Lera Auerbach is a truly multi-faceted artist – concert pianist and composer, poet and prose author, painter and sculptor – who is more than capable of combining highly diverse traditions in her work. She joined us at the Festival in 2009. On today’s short work she says: Arcanum means mysterious knowledge. I was fascinated by that inner voice within each of us, some may call it intuition, but there is some knowledge that we have, which we may not necessarily verbalise or rationalise. This knowledge allows us to see the truth, to be guided, to seek answers. Arcanum deals with questions about death and what is behind it. We don’t know it of course, but each person asks these questions: what is behind, what is beyond? In many ways those questions define our life. Arcanum is a tragic work with this  constant tension between something inescapable that is beyond our control and our attempts to find meaning or perhaps to find freedom from those frames that we are placed within. Arcanum does not give answers, but poses essential questions. 

Instead of programme notes for the ECM recording the composer gave us extensive dictionary entries for the four Latin movement titles, here briefly summarised. Advenio – to come to, to arrive at, to reach. Cinis – ashes, the spent or smouldering fires of love or enmity. Postremo – at last, after everything else, last of all, finally. Adempte – to remove something by physical force, take away, to banish, to confiscate.

Advenio is an intensely dramatic opening movement with an acutely dissonant piano motto leading to an equally animated viola declamation. The violence gradually recedes in a haze of pizzicatos. Cinis is the slow movement, a stylized funeral march embracing a brighter central section that brings the music to a gentler, calmer place. Postremo acts as an exciting perpetuum mobile Scherzo with a quiet Trio marked Adagio nostalgico. The coda takes us to a different place, a new answer to some of the composer’s insistent questions. The final movement, Adempte, keeps approaching those special moments of perfect harmony, the piano puts the question but the viola finds it harder to surrender and veers off course until the very end.

Francis Humphrys