Composer-executant recordings always attract interest and when
the figure concerned is Alexander Tcherepnin, no mean pianist,
and no mean composer either, that enthusiasm is not misplaced.
These recordings were made in a period between 1967 and 1973
in the Salle Wagram in Paris and attest to some highly congenial
chamber sessions with elite collaborators and colleagues.
A number of these sessions are very well known to those who
follow either composer or some of the musicians who associated
with him on disc. Very recently, for instance, the Piano Trio,
Duo and Solo Suite were all reissued in an EMI box of 20 CDs
devoted to Paul Tortelier [EMI 6 88627 2].
Tcherepnin’s chamber works from the mid-1920s are fascinatingly
terse. The Piano Quintet alternates between the outer movements’
cagey attacks and the weary pizzicato drip of the central Allegretto.
The bustle and drama of the finale, in particular, is brilliantly
conveyed by the composer and the Groupe Instrumental de Paris.
The Second Quartet of 1926 is similarly given over to moments
of jagged attack, unsettled, compressed in scale. Again Tcherepnin
utilises pizzicato in the central movement as a good contrastive
and colouristic device before returning to the biting motifs
with which the work began. All over in fewer than eleven minutes
Tcherepnin’s Trio (Yan Pascal and Paul Tortelier, the composer
himself) is a refined opus with insinuating warmth and a folkloric
finale in big boots. It’s notable how the composer pumps out
the pervasive treble writing in the opening movement – very
percussive. The folkloric hints in the slow movement only develop
after an uneasy start, but are more obvious in the finale. The
Duo for violin and cello sports some real introspection in its
central Moderato, whilst the solo suite is a multi-faceted
soliloquy with folk drive, drones and elemental pizzicato in
its exciting lexicon. And the solo Suite for cello, so richly
portrayed by Paul Tortelier is a six minute work that opens
with a quasi-cadenza and includes a rather austerely lovely
The second disc gives us Tcherepnin’s solo piano works, starting
with the 1919 First Sonata. There’s more than just a touch of
Stravinsky about this, though the ‘homage’ element here is more
frankly baroque than neo-classical in orientation. The powerfully
assertive chordal writing of the second movement is notable,
but so too is the cinematic brio of the scherzo and the gentle,
almost childlike gravity of the finale. The four Préludes Nostalgiques
(1922) evoke reverie - stalking left hand, twinkling right in
the First – as well as more terse writing in the second. The
Bagatelles are early works dating from just before the First
World War, though the composer revised them in the late 1950s.
These ten very brief pieces are certainly full of character,
even if some of it is more pianistic than strictly musical.
The best are the second, which seems to show awareness of Prokofiev,
and the light-fingered and also light-hearted sixth. The final
five piano works come from considerably later. The Prélude is
a rolling toccata-boogie, an ostinato study of fulsome vehemence.
And amidst the storm of his Opp.81, 85 and 88 works, we have
the calm and balm of the earlier Op.56 No.7 Étude.
The disc is rounded off with some vocal works by Alexander’s
composer father Nikolai in which Nicolai Gedda is the august
singer. The piano sound here is rather different from what we
have heard before, though the session was also in 1973; the
piano spectrum is, not unattractively, set slightly distantly,
whereas before it was certainly up-front. The songs’ ethos is
traditional late nineteenth century Russian, the climaxes are
splendidly graded, the pianissimi haunting, the piano part,
whether spare or darkening – as in Le Bouleau – worthy
of note, and there is a vein of melancholy too, best exemplified
by Chant d’automne.
This is a most handy restoration. Tcherepnin’s chamber and solo
piano works have plenty of character and receiving the composer’s
imprimatur - in a non–doctrinal sense - only adds to its desirability.
and some further thoughts from Rob Barnett:-
The concertos and symphonies of Russian emigré Alexander Tcherepnin
have been gloriously celebrated in a Bis boxed set (BIS-CD-1717/18
– 4 CDs for the price of 2).
This is the sixth release in the 20th-Century Classics series
from EMI Classics and intelligently and unexpectedly complements
the Bis box.
EMI Classics continue to mine the most obscure corners of their
vast international treasury of recordings. This twofer must
have been compiled from amongst the contents of the most cobwebbed
The Stravinskian Piano Quintet tracks through a series of episodes,
lugubrious, morose, dense and angst-ridden flight and finally
relentlessly urgent even when it sings. The second movement
is more delicate and chiming with some gentle dissonance amid
the Prokofiev style propulsion. The Second Quartet seems to
keep piling on the emotional pressure. It is haunted, knowing,
fatalistic and fearful. The middle movement is pensive and feature
the high-whistling harmonics of the violin. The Piano Trio is
gently melancholic and thoughtful but in the finale again finds
Tcherepnin’s accustomed breath-defyingly relentless sense of
flight. The Duo is in five movements of pressurised and gloomy
pleasure with the occasional trimming of Hungarian-accented
filigree from the violin. The variegated movements of the Suite
for solo cello wend their way through introspection, delicacy
(a folksy Risoluto), pacy athleticism and again that burst of
chasseur allegro. The solo piano pieces – played by the composer
- are full of salty interest and as with the other works Tcherepnin
again proves himself a paragon of concision. It is god to see
Yan Pascal Tortelier’s name amongst those of the other players.
He is now recognised as a conductor having won his spurs through
many discs recorded for Chandos.
The songs of Alexander's father, Nikolai (1873-1945) were not
familiar to me. Nikolai was a renowned conductor in Tsarist
Russia. His best known composition is the 66 minute ballet Le
pavillon d'Armide (1907) recorded by Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Henry
Shek (Marco Polo 8.223779). You should also track down a deleted
DG CD (447084-2).which includes his 14 minute symphonic poem
The Enchanted Kingdom (1910) with the Russian National
Orchestra conducted by Mikhail Pletnev. Oon Chandos there’s
his 54 minute ballet Narcisse et Echo (CHAN 9670) from
Gennady Rozhdestvensky and the Residentie Orchestra The Hague.
The songs on this EMI set show a composer with sympathies firmly
fastened to those of Slav late-romanticism. The difference between
father and son’s music is like the difference between early
brilliant Rimsky-doting Stravinsky and the more severe and emotion-strapped
Stravinsky of the 1920s.
The history of the Tcherepnins can be read in Gregor
Tassie’s fine article but also have a look at the Tcherepnin
The notes for this set are by Martin Cotton
Tcherepnin is never effusive. Alexander may have fled Russia
but his pathway lay away from the romantic haze and possessed
nostalgia of homeland-bereft Rachmaninov and Medtner. He is
instead concise and tonal producing music that if it was a wine
would be fruity sec and definitely not a voluptuously sticky
Beaume de Venise.