Samples & Downloads
Complete Piano Music - Vol. 1
10 Bagatelles, op.5 (1918) [11:35]
Sonata No.1, op.22 (1918) [14:37]
Inventions, op.13 (1921) [5:43]*
Sonata No.2, op.94 (1961) [11:11]
10 Études, op.18 (1920) [19:32]*
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
*World Premiére Recordings
rec. Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland,
13 March 2011.
GRAND PIANO GP608 [62:38]
This is one of those discs that makes me want to shout with
delight. Not only is it the piano music of a neglected but brilliant
composer but the sub-title Complete Piano Music 1 means
there will be more. In fact there will be as many as eight volumes
By his late teens, the accompanying booklet explains, Tcherepnin
had already composed several hundred pieces. His
father, Nikolay was a conductor, pianist and composer and, indeed
the genes were passed on to Alexander’s son Ivan who was
also a composer. Being born in what, as Confucius would, no
doubt, have described as “interesting times”, the
family had a difficult life from 1917 when they left for Tbilisi,
Georgia, to escape the upheavals of the Russian Revolution,
cholera and famine. Then they had to flee Georgia, following
its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1921, for Paris where
Alexander remained throughout the second world war before finally
settling in the USA in 1948.
His corpus of work embraces all manner of genres including opera,
ballet, orchestral, chamber, solo works, choral, band, music
for films and the theatre and even compositions for accordion
and harmonica, among others. Though I’ve yet to hear much
of it I’ve always been particularly struck by his piano
music which I’ve found original and exciting ever since
I first heard it on a old vinyl disc. He’s another of
those pianist composers from the early twentieth century who
became masters of the piano miniature.
The disc opens with his 10 Bagatelles, op.5 from 1918,
distilled from a much larger number of pieces begun when he
was a mere 13 year old, and one of his best known compositions.
It comes as no surprise to learn that fact as they are highly
inventive and hugely satisfying works possessing a crystalline
brilliance accompanied by a propulsive momentum that drives
the music forward in a way that becomes almost addictive. They
are pieces that stay in the memory for, though I never heard
that old disc often and not for many years, I recognised the
first two bagatelles as plainly as if I’d only listened
to them last week. Years after he had written them Tcherepnin
was embarrassed by their success regarding them as juvenile,
though he relented later accepting their spontaneity. Artists
can sometimes be too self-critical, finding it difficult to
accept flashes of genius at an early age. These are certainly
examples of that and while you listen just remind yourself that
these were composed almost one hundred years ago - unbelievable!
Self criticism takes various forms and often includes destruction
of works considered unworthy of publication - thank God that
didn’t happen with the bagatelles! - and with Tcherepnin
that was the fate of the first twelve of his 13 piano sonatas,
written in his early teens. The fourteenth, later renumbered
as his piano sonata no.1, is the sole survivor and listening
to it you can only imagine what has been lost, with regret.
It’s a wonderful piece that is rhythmically inventive
and exciting and which reveals a creative talent that is simply
mind-boggling for someone so young. The booklet’s authors
find some similarities with Prokofiev’s earlier Toccata
and describe it as “This distinctly Russian-sounding piece
...” I agree with this but also see parallels in Tcherepnin’s
compositions with Medtner and aspects of Scriabin, Weinberg
and even Shostakovich. With piano compositions of that era from
that part of the world there seems to have been an inherent
and instinctive prism through which these composers naturally
viewed things musical.
The 9 Inventions, op.13 (1921) that appear on this disc
as a world première recording are further proof of Tcherepnin’s
compositional abilities. They are, like the bagatelles, short,
brilliantly scored little gems. The booklet’s authors
write that “... it is hard for the listener to escape
the self-consciousness of the new compositional technique”.
I obviously missed out on that and it makes me realise that
sometimes it’s better not to be an expert so that I can
enjoy things more easily.
Tcherepnin’s Sonata no.2, op.94 (1961) has an autobiographical
aspect. It gives expression to a frightening episode in which
Tcherepnin experienced a strange ringing in his ears. This persisted
over two years but eventually disappeared of its own accord.
I was not able to discern this in the music but enjoyed it for
its own sake as yet more marvellous writing for the piano. Again
it serves to emphasise his youthful abilities as this mature
work did not leave the early works ‘in the cold’
by any means.
The final work on the disc is 10 Études, op.18
(1920) and another world première recording. As I listened
to the opening of the first I thought of Chopin. I was interested
to read that the booklet noted similarities with Chopin too
but also with Prokofiev while others brought Rachmaninov to
mind and again Chopin and Prokofiev. Which composer doesn’t
draw on influences from others however. Those who make every
conscious effort to plough a unique furrow often produce sterile
works. These etudes are absolutely fabulous little masterpieces
(no.8 lasts a mere 35 seconds!) and they round off the disc
in a truly emphatic way. When you realise that these works,
while they bear the date of publication of 1920, were in fact
written when Tcherepnin was a young teenager you just have to
marvel. Music seems to be an art-form that very young people
seem able to master at an earlier age than just about any other.
It would be staggering to come upon a novel or a painting, sculpture
or a play created by anyone as young. On the rare occasions
when it does happen we find it just that. In music it happens
much more often. I thought of this only yesterday when I heard
the string sextet written by the 11 year old Max Bruch.
This disc is a simply brilliant introduction to anyone who hasn’t
come across Tcherepnin before and who loves 20th
century piano music. The works are played superbly by Giorgio
Koukl who has already recorded all of Martinů’s piano
works to great acclaim. A wonderful disc altogether!