In August 2013 BBC Radio 3’s Composer Of The Week
celebrated its 70th
anniversary. It’s the world’s longest running programme to feature an in-depth examination of the life and work of a composer over a five day period each week. As part of those celebrations listeners were asked to submit suggestions for composers who had not yet been featured in all those years. Unsurprisingly during those 70 years composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and many more have been featured several times when different aspects or periods of their lives have been put under the spotlight. While it is obvious that not every composer can be looked at, it was clear that there were some omissions deserving of inclusion and I was happy to make some suggestions of my own and was thrilled that one of those, Hans Gàl, was recently featured. Another who I suggested is the composer of the music on this disc, Alexander Tcherepnin. I am hopeful that it will not be too long before he too is revealed for audiences to discover just what an amazingly brilliant and inventive composer he is. This disc, volume 6 of a projected eight to include his entire solo music for piano, is yet further evidence of that statement. Once again there are world première recordings here too.
The Songs Without Words
come from his post-second world war writings and comprise five pieces, all of them under three minutes long. All have a great deal to say within that short time-frame and all of them are in contrasting mood. For anyone coming afresh to the works of this composer these little gems will be enough to grab the attention and make the listener eager to explore further. Those who have already discovered him will once again find themselves charmed by his wondrous imagination. I found Rondel
and Hymn to Our Lady
particularly affecting. Chant Et Refrain
, given its première by Messiaen’s future wife Yvonne Loriod in 1944, shows Tcherepnin’s characteristically disarming side. First we hear a tinkling song and then a merry and cheeky response with the tinkling translated into bell-like chords all proving how a simple idea can embody so much.
Le Monde En Vitrine
(translated as Showcase
) was inspired by the display case of porcelain figurines owned by Madame Amos, a well known patroness of the arts in Paris in the 1940s. Tcherepnin’s fertile imagination takes several of these items and treats them to a musical interpretation that is as charming as it is inventive. The grace of The Deer
stands in elegant contrast to the crafty stalking of poultry by The Weasel
while The Greyhounds and the Cow
and The Frog
each weave their musical magic in totally convincing portraits.
which dates from 1948-49 is a reference to the Fourth Republic that emerged following the end of the Second World War and is suitably serious with peals of bells and an allusion to La Marseillaise
. The next two pieces are the 2 Novelettes
which were written in 1921-22, the first of the world première recordings. The second of these involves Tcherepnin’s characteristic frantic cascading of notes up and down the keyboard with the frisson of excitement maintained throughout.
is not only a world première recording but is apparently unpublished with the Tcherepnin Society generously providing a copy of the score to pianist Giorgio Koukl for this disc. It is suitably serious in nature though it has moments of great passion and beauty. Rondo à la Russe
is based upon a charming folk melody and this main theme is subjected to increasingly elaborate decoration making for a three minute piece of wonder and joy.
The third world première recording and final work on the disc comprises a series of Slavic Transcriptions
which were composed in Monte Carlo in 1924. Of the five The Volga Boatmen
will be best known and because it is so well known what Tcherepnin does with it is all the more telling. There’s a darkly sinister opening before the tune is revealed and then improvised upon. Song for the Beloved
if recognised will again show how this master could take what is a simple tune and adorn it with some wonderful improvisations that include a recognisably folk-like balalaika sound. As implied in the notes, the next Song from Great Russia
seems to bear a Stravinskian influence. Along the banks of the Volga
has a grandiose and serious opening which then becomes increasingly ponderous. For any lovers of Russian folk-songs these pieces show how they can be successfully worked upon and still retain their rustic charm. The final piece of the set and the disc is a jaunty and tongue-in-cheek treatment of a Czech folk-song which is still popular to this day and can often be heard in the pivnice
(pubs) of Prague and elsewhere in the country. Giorgio Koukl will have identified closely with this piece as a Czech-born pianist and it shows in his playing of it.
This series has shown the huge range of piano works that Tcherepnin produced. For me there is never a dull moment and with each additional listening one discovers more layers. I really hope that the BBC do take him up as a Composer of the Week
when I am sure more sides to this fascinatingly original composer will be revealed. I can’t wait.
As has been the case in all the previous volumes this one continues to demonstrate the ability of Giorgio Koukl to extract every last nuance from the music and faithfully to serve the composer by showing him in the best possible light. The range of colours that he brings to the music is quite simply dazzling and I await Volume 7 with great anticipation.
Reviews of previous releases in this series