Like Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Tcherepnin is a Russian composer lumbered
with a superfluous initial T. Unlike his great compatriot, Tcherepnin's
music suffers from a distinct, and entirely unjustifiable lack
of exposure. It is quite astonishing that this is, according
to the Tcherepnin Society, only the fourth ever CD dedicated
entirely to his music. On the evidence at least of this release,
Tcherepnin's piano music - evocative, melodic, harmonically
imaginative and immensely varied - merits a place in every pianist's
repertoire and on every music-lover's shelf.
The Three Pieces op.24 set the tone marvellously for
the rest of the disc, from the opening soulful neo-Chopinesque
Rêverie to the breezy wistfulness of the Idylle, via the tumultuous
C minor Etude in which Tcherepnin pays virtuosic tribute to
Chopin's op.10 no.12 in aptly revolutionary-sounding terms.
The Three Pieces were probably composed in the 1890s,
making them a relatively early work: this is still Tcherepnin
By contrast, in 6 Musical Illustrations to Pushkin's 'The
Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish', abbreviated to The
Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish on the disc, the distinctive
harmonic language that was to become Tcherepnin's trademark
is immediately apparent and very striking. For a composer of
such evident originality - not to mention his musicological
significance as a teacher, conductor and father of Alexander
- it is hard to credit that The Tale, like both other
works in David Witten's memorable recital, is a premiere recording.
The New Grove dictionary lists only an orchestral version of
The Tale, published in 1921, but according to Witten's
notes, the piano score predates it by at least six years. Tcherepnin
did in fact expect the pianist normally to be accompanied by
a narrator, with the piano giving a musical description, both
literally and psychologically, of Pushkin's text after each
of the six sections into which Tcherepnin has divided the work.
There is no narrator in this recording, but DIY is certainly
possible - the full text in English is given in the booklet.
If the non-existence of a previous recording of The Fisherman
and the Fish is puzzling, the neglect of the 14 Sketches
on Pictures from the Russian Alphabet is inexplicable. Inspired
by a children's book, Tcherepnin has created a suite of beautifully
sculpted miniatures, depicting a murderous Moor, a doll's mealtime,
swans on a lake, a scene from Hänsel and Gretel, a stuffed
bear and a host of other images of great variety, captured with
outstanding musical imagination. By way of splendid bonus, Toccata
have reproduced all 14 letter-pictures in colour in their original
form in the booklet.
All three of Tcherepnin's works are sensitively played, with
technical expertise, by experienced American pianist David Witten,
who is also founder member of the chamber trio Solo Espri -
exotically made up of piano, clarinet and mezzo-soprano - as
well as of Dúo Clásico, where Witten performs with flautist
Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin ... a link there with this
latest release, perhaps!
Sound quality is generally very good. Despite the retro looking
cover, the CD booklet is excellent, with detailed, interesting
notes, even footnotes, on Tcherepnin and his works written by
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