Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 3 (1952) 26.25
Symphony No. 4 (1958-9) 25.52
Piano Concerto No. 6 (1965) 26.52
Noriko Ogawa (piano) Singapore SO/Lan Shui
rec Jan 1999, Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore BIS BIS-CD-1018 [79.45]

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Nikolai Tcherepnin was born in 1873 and died in 1945. Alexander was the son of Nikolai. His mother was a singer. He had two sons; both of them composers: Sergei (b.1941) and Ivan (1943-98).

Alexander's music is tinged with 'soft' cut dissonance. It is for example nowhere near as 'thorny' as Rawsthorne or Frankel or Sessions; more like the effect of a single chili in a large savoury dish. It gives an edge - no more.

Tcherepnin grew up in St Petersburg with Glazunov and Rimsky as house visitors. After the Revolution the family moved to Tbilisi, capital of Georgia. Tcherepnin developed a tonality system all his own and much harnessed to the melodic resource of Georgian folk music. In 1921 a move to Paris resulted in his joining a group of ex-pats livings there. His circle included Martinu and Tansman. He lived in China and Japan between 1934 and 1937. He married the concert pianist Lee Hsien Ming and spent the war years in Paris. In 1948 he emigrated to the USA living in Chicago and New York. Tcherepnin was a sensational concert pianist.

BIS's project (financially supported by the Singapore SO's Ladies' League - to whom warm thanks are due!). is to record all four of the Tcherepnin symphonies and with this disc their project completes full circle. I hope in due course to complete the picture with a review of the first CD (BIS-CD-1017).

The BIS pair nicely complement the pair of OLYMPIA CDs OCD 439 and OCD 440 containing all six piano concertos in performances by the always stimulating, Murray McLachlan with Chetham's SO conducted by Julian Clayton (details at the end of this review).

The Third Symphony is a potentially very popular work. The cleanly romantic lines of the first movement suggest Alwyn and even Moeran. There is an oriental influence no doubt attributable to his years in China. Add to this a touch of Igor Markevich's steely power which returns in glossy splendour in the finale. While the second movement's Stravinskian marching is clever the great adagio is impressive. Its features include a Rimskian Russo-oriental melody (sung on oboe), a melody (shades of Londonderry Air) is counterpointed by the 'chipping' of the xylophone. Tcherepnin brings these strands to a Tchaikovskian simmer in which the brass impressively jut, thrust, parry and riposte.

Its less obviously accessible successor is in three movements. Scorching Rimskian with a dash of Shostakovich's triumphalism and Malcolm Arnold's melodrama. The middle movement is memorable for its acerbic piccolo, an 'exploded' waltz and a higher quotient of dissonance. The music might be likened to Bruckner 8 on 'speed'. The andante shatters the Brucknerian antics of the middle movement with helpings of Honegger (think of Pacific 231) and ends sphinx-like: quietly with small trudging motivic cells petering out into silence.

The Piano Concerto No. 6 is given an outing one and half minutes shorter than the Olympia. Although a comparatively late work it is not unduly challenging. The music partakes of Prokofiev's brightness and Shostakovich's asperity. There is an insistently powered allegro, an excitable angular rush of stony notes and a slightly edgy andantino. The concerto was premiered by Margrit Weber with the Concertgebouw and Rafael Kubelik at the Luzern Festival in 1972.

How long before we are treated to the compete symphonies of Peter Racine Fricker, Peter Tahourdin, John Gardner, Victor Legley, Lev Knipper and Alexander Tansman? The boundaries are rolling back all the time.

An intriguing disc made a pleasure by the Third Symphony.


Rob Barnett



1. 1927

2. 1947

3. 1952

4. 1959

Piano Concertos

No. 1 1920

No. 2 1923

No. 3 1931-32

No. 4 1945

No. 5 1963

No. 6 1965


Rob Barnett

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