Reading about the recent first performances given by Jonathan Biss of a new piano work by Bernard Rands made me take down Bernard’s Preludes for piano from the bookshelf. This is a set of 12 character pieces written for Robert Levin and premiered in 2007. The works have Italian titles – Ricercare, Toccata, and some less familiar ones, like Istampita and Bordone. The Italian angle is also reflected in the set’s two memorial pieces, one for Luciano Berio, the other for Donald Martino. Bernard’s ear for exquisite harmony is evident throughout as is his interest in structures that proliferate in a gradual process – for example, the efflorescing lines set against detached chords in the opening Ricercare, or the gradually more elaborate harmonizations of a recurring chorale tune in Ritornello-Rallentando. This type of variation technique, with a clearly repeated structural basis, is familiar from works like Rands’s Bolero-like Ceremonial for wind ensemble, or, in a more lyrical vein, the second movement from the first Le Tambourin Suite. The pianism in the preludes ranges from relatively stark to quite virtuosic.
Bernard and his wife Augusta Read Thomas have a large number of recordings posted online here – look for the folder with Bernard’s music. UPDATE: Find recordings of Augusta’s music here. bernardrands.com does not have the recordings of his music that Gusty’s old site did. The score of the Preludes is published by Schott. Video of Jonathan Biss on the new Rands piece here and here.