Alexander TCHEREPNIN (1899-1977)
Chamber Music
CD 1
Piano Quintet in G, Op.44 (1927) [15:35] ¹
String Quartet No.2 in A minor, Op.40 (1926) [10:44] ¹
Piano Trio Op.34 (1925) [8:35] ²
Duo Op.49 for Violin and Cello (1932) [11:47] ²
Suite for Solo Cello Op.76 (1946) [6:09]
CD 2
Piano Sonata in A Major Op.22 (1918) [16:32]
4 Preludes Nostalgiques Op.23 (1922) [7:08]
10 Bagatelles Op.5 (1914 rev 1958) [11:36]
Prelude Op.83 No.9 [1:32]
Expression Op.81 No.9 (1951) [1:32]
8 Pieces Op.88: No.4 "Impromptu" / No.8 "Burlesque" [1:19 + 2:43]
Etude Op.56 No.7 [3:20]
Nikolai TCHEREPNIN (1873-1945)
Melodies; ³
Le Lac du Tsar Op.16 No.3 [3:54]
Deux Légendes mystiques Op.50 [11:03]
Le Bouleau Op.33 No.4 [4:03]
Chant d’automne Op.7 No.1 [3:24]
La bougle s’est éteinte Op.21 No.3 [2:19]
Alexander Tcherepnin (piano)
Groupe Instrumental de Paris (Lionel Gali, Michel Noël, Bruno Pasquier, Robert Bex)¹
Yan Pascal Tortelier (violin)
Paul Tortelier (cello)²
Nicolai Gedda (tenor)³
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris, May 1969 (chamber), April 1967 (piano solo), December 1973 (songs). stereo. ADD
EMI CLASSICS - 20TH CENTURY CLASSICS 9 07256 2 3 [53:11 + 70:49]

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 too.

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 Largo.

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.

Jonathan Woolf

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 shelving.

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 website.

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.

Rob Barnett

Fruity sec; definitely not voluptuously sticky.