With volume five of the complete piano music of Alexander Tcherepnin we are now on the home straight for the final instalments in what will be an eight disc series. As previously there are world première recordings here which always add an extra frisson of excitement. On this disc there are 62 tracks and the longest is 1:58 which surely makes this incredible composer an absolute magician when it comes to writing a miniature.
The eight preludes date from the brief period he and his family spent in Tbilisi, capital of the then independent state of Georgia. This was during the Tcherepnins’ flight from the chaos and turmoil that ensued following the Revolution of 1917. He was still in his late teens but was already a composer who, by the age of fifteen, had produced a set of bagatelles that even students today find themselves studying along with the dozens of works including symphonies, piano concertos and operas, many piano pieces, and at least seven piano sonatas. Cary Lewis and Mark Gresham have done their usual impressive job of describing the music in sufficient detail to increase the listening pleasure and I shall not attempt to find other words to say the same things. Suffice to say that as Reger once said about his own organ works there is neither a note too many nor a note too few in any of these pieces or, for that matter, in any of the 62 featured on this disc. One is left merely to marvel at the consummate ability that Tcherepnin demonstrates in creating fabulously rich, beautiful and abundantly interesting music in such tiny time-frames.
The four Arabesques
which followed shortly after the preludes are again so magnificently constructed and seem to embody a feeling for the exotic east that foretells his years spent in China and the far east. There he taught many budding composers and musicians, leading none other than the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu to say that in Japan Tcherepnin is recognised as a father-figure of Japanese serious music. The second of these arabesques, like the opening one of the eight preludes, shows how convincingly he can reproduce bell-like sounds in a thoroughly joyous explosion of energy. In almost everything he wrote there is the overriding feeling that this man revelled in life. There is an infectious optimism about his music and though he could write dark passages when he felt so moved the overwhelming impression is one of a love of life and a desire to explore everything it could offer musically.
The Twelve pieces
are making their world première appearance here since only one of them Ascension
(no.11) has been published previously. It was the publisher Choudens who asked the composer to write them so that one could be selected to be put into a volume of music for children. It has taken until now, their having been written in 1969, for all of them to make their way onto disc; this thanks to the Tcherepnin Society. Despite the fact that they were written around fifty years after the two other sets the entirely recognisable hand of the composer is plainly displayed in these wonderfully playful pieces. The one chosen for the children’s album would no doubt please a child requiring, as it does, a progression from the lowest notes to the highest in less than a minute.
The remaining 39 pieces are from a collection entitled Opivochki
or little dregs and received the very last opus number 109. Don’t let the rather inelegant title lead you to think that they are by implication worthless. In fact they are just as inventive as anything else he wrote. The booklet usefully gives the briefest of descriptions about each so as not to spend more time on trying to do that than they take to listen to.
Virgil Thomson put it that Tcherepnin's art had “at all periods been filled with poetry and bravura". That is the neatest summing up of his music that I have come across. I’ll not try to better it for it is totally accurate as any admirer of his work will already know. Once this fantastic contribution to his discography has concluded with the imminent release of the eighth and final volume of the complete piano music it is to be hoped that other record companies will want to explore more of his works; his symphonies and piano concertos are already available on disc.
If anyone who doesn’t know Tcherepnin’s music hears this disc they will find themselves completely captivated and will want to own the entire set. Once again Giorgio Koukl manages totally to inhabit the music and one can be sure that had Tcherepnin himself been able to hear his interpretations he would have been as happy with them as doubtless he was with his own.
Reviews of other releases in this series