Alexander TCHEREPNIN (1899-1977)
Piano Music: 1913-1961
Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22 (1918-19) [14:47], Piano Sonata No.2 Op.94 (1961) [9:50], Quatre Préludes Nostalgiques, Op.23 (1922) [6:48], Prélude, Op.85, No.9 (1953) [1:27], Moment Musical (1913)* [1:59], Petite Suite, Op.6 (1918-19)* [8:31], Rondo à la Russe (c.1946)* [2:38], Entretiens, Op.46 (1920-30)* [12:12], Polka (1944)* [1:59], Scherzo, Op.3 (1917)* [3:28], Expressions, Op.81 (1951) [13:21], La Quatrième (1948-49)* [2:30]
Alexander Tcherepnin (piano) tracks 1-12 (Opp. 22, 85); Mikhail Shilyaev (piano) * First recordings.
rec. McMillan Theatre, Columbia University, New York City, USA, 30-31 March 1965 (Opp.22, 85); The Peacock Room, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, UK, 23, 29 April 2012
As the only composer to have done significant work in all 5 UN Security Council nations - Russia, Britain, France, China and the USA - it is unsurprising that Willi Reich, in his biography called Alexander Tcherepnin a ‘musical citizen of the world’. Several discs of his music have been released this year which allow appraisal of a truly fascinating and prolific composer.
Piano Sonata No.1 began life as no.14 but Tcherepnin destroyed vast amounts of his juvenilia; not that you’d ever guess that this sonata was written by someone so young it is so incredibly self assured, an assurance which will have come from all the works he had previously composed. It is a fabulously rich piece of writing with a theme that emerges in the first movement that would have been worthy of Liszt. This sonata and the Op. 85 piece are played by the composer himself showing his complete mastery of the instrument both technically and compositionally. His writing demands great pianistic power which is amply demonstrated in the third movement for example, in which notes tumble over each other in rapid succession. The final movement, marked grave is suitably sober in mood to complete this marvellous work. Incredible as it may seem for such a prolific composer his second sonata had to wait 42 years to be written. The first movement is fascinating, alternating between lento and animato while the second, marked andantino is wistfully beautiful. The final animato has the sonata finally disappear mid-phrase. The booklet notes explain how Tcherepnin’s suffering with tinnitus was put to “good” use in the sonata with the pitches D and E that vied with each other in his head competing as a frequently recurring motif in the sonata. His Quatre Préludes Nostalgiques from 1922 come next, the first of which creates an air of mystery. The second is a quiet interlude before the third’s tempestuoso lives up to its name. The last one is a mixture of sadness and grandeur. The final work on the disc played by the composer himself is a little 1½ minute cracker with almost all the notes coming from the piano’s lowest register. At this point pianist Mikhail Shilyaev takes over showing how gently he can caress the keys which is what is required with the first of his contributions Moment Musical from 1913, when the composer was only 14, and is its first recording. From 1918 to 1919 we have another first recording, Tcherepnin’s Petite Suite. This is full of delights. Rondo à la Russe from 1946 is “Russian” as it is supposed to be but interestingly Tcherepnin otherwise rarely shows his origins in his music though sometimes he does remind one of Rachmaninov or Prokofiev. Entretiens composed over a ten year period from 1920 to 1930 is in ten parts, all of them showing the composer’s inventive flair. One of the recurring ideas in his music is the evocation of bells as with the final piece from the set. Tcherepnin enjoyed fun as much as being serious and this is amply demonstrated in the little Polka from 1944. Scherzo from 1917 has elements of both Prokofiev, Tcherepnin’s idol at the time, and Rachmaninov, though much harsher in sound to his lushness, though it begins that way. The set of 10 little pieces that together form Expressions, dating from 1951, are the only ones played by Shilyaev that are not first recordings and each bears a title rather than a tempo marking. At the Fair brings some Russian elements into play and I was reminded of Stravinsky. Barcarolle is a beautiful and delightful sounding piece and one of the longest on the disc at 3 minutes long; Tcherepnin had an amazing ability to exploit ideas within a tiny time-frame. La Quatrième from 1948-9, the last offering, is another first recording. It’s full of grandeur and the title is a reference to the Fourth Republic in France which heralded its post-war era following liberation. It received its première only in 1959 since it was part of a project by the publisher to have several compositions from immigrant composers of the École de Paris group in a collection that never materialised. The overall impression one is left with after hearing this disc and others of Tcherepnin’s music is the breadth of his inventiveness; there is never a dull moment and discovering his music has been one of the musical highlights for me this year. As one would expect the tracks recorded this year sound fresher and crisper than those recorded by the composer in March 1965, though to have his own interpretations of those works is so valuable. Tcherepnin showed what a considerable pianist he was while Shilyaev amply shows his interpretive skills with that full range of moods and touches. This is vital for music that can range from a mere whisper to almost cataclysmic thunder.
The booklet notes by Benjamin Folkman are extremely well written, highly informative and contribute towards making the whole experience both enjoyable and memorable. If you have discovered the wonderful world of Tcherepnin’s piano music then this disc is a must for you and, if not, it is a perfect place to start to get to know this fascinating composer.
Steve Arloff
A perfect place to start to get to know this fascinating composer.

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