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Alexander TCHEREPNIN (1899-1977)
Complete Piano Music - vol. 4
Entretiens, op.46 (1930) [12:01]
12 Preludes.op.85 (1952-53) [22:11]
4 Romances, op.31 (1934)* [7:37]
5 Concert Etudes, op.52, “Chinese” (1936) [16:13]
Giorgio Koukl (piano)
rec. Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano, Switzerland, 28 August 2012
* World Première Recordings
GRAND PIANO GP649 [58:01]

In my previous review of volume 3 in this series I said I was finding the wait between ‘fixes’ of Tcherepnin’s music difficult to bear. Imagine my joy that hard on the heels of volume 3 of the 8 that will eventually comprise the complete solo piano music of this marvellous composer comes volume 4 (see also reviews of Volume 1 & Volume 2). The superlative standard of both the music and the playing continues to enthral.
 
Despite the year given to his Entretiens as being 1930 it is thought by experts at the wonderful Tcherepnin Society that they were taken from different parts of his life and presented later as a collection. This may explain the late opus number in comparison with the 4 Romances which as a group was given the opus number 31 and dated 1934. Incidentally we have the New York-based Tcherepnin Society to thank for their continued support which has enabled these recordings to be made.
 
Entretiens is a perfect example of Tcherepnin’s mastery of the miniature with ten pieces that take a mere twelve minutes to play. Each little gem has its own characteristics that fascinate and delight; just listen to number 4 and you’ll see what I mean as it is absolutely delicious and destined to become my new ear-worm. I agree with the booklet writers that these little pieces have a cinematic quality which serves to emphasise Tcherepnin’s ability to make tiny utterances so telling.
 
The 12 Preludes.op.85are from the 1950s when Tcherepnin was living in the US and travelling frequently between there and Europe. While they show a mature composer at the height of his powers they still inhabit the same sound-world from which the earlier pieces came. Once you get to know that world you will easily identify his musical signature. These preludes are all highly individual and are all in a more serious vein than the light and playful Entretiens. That said, there is plenty of beauty on show, number 5 being a particular case in point. Though many categorise these works as being part of his neo-romantic period there is always in his music a contemporary edge which firmly places his music as having been composed in the twentieth century. It was interesting to read that Tcherepnin particularly enjoying playing his number 9 Allegro which deploys the sort of stentorian outburst that often characterises his music. Sometimes I felt I could detect nostalgia for Russia, for example in number one in which snatches of a Russian folksong can be heard, and in the melancholy final piece.
 
Each release in this wonderful collection has included one or more world première recordings. Volume 4 is no exception with the 4 Romances, op.31 making their first ever appearance on disc and clearly not before time. However, the title is somewhat misleading since there are plenty of abrupt and strident chords to disrupt any apparent calm. Still they are so inventive that you cannot fail to enjoy them and admire their creator.
 
The 5 Concert Etudes, op.52, “Chinese” which date from 1936 are sub-titled “Chinese” because they were inspired by folk music and folk instruments and were composed during a long stay in China from 1934 to 1937. During this time he helped young composers develop ways to preserve “native styles in modern forms” as the booklet notes explain. What better way is there to show how to do this than by practising what you preach. Number 3 has a particular relevance as “Homage to China” was dedicated to a young Chinese pianist Lee Hsien-Ming, the first female pianist to graduate from Shanghai University. Tcherepnin made her his second wife and she helped found the Tcherepnin Society. They are wonderfully effective pieces that cleverly combine the essence of China in an immediately recognisable way interlaced with Tcherepnin’s unique style.
 
As composer Virgil Thomson said of Tcherepnin’s music that it "has at all periods been filled with poetry and bravura" a combination that makes his work so special and infinitely rewarding that it is easy to become hooked. It is an addiction to which I am pleased to have fallen victim.
 
The four remaining discs of the set of 8 are due out by the middle of 2014 so I can look forward to being drip-fed until then. As with the previous three discs Giorgio Koukl is the perfect advocate and it is hard to imagine that his interpretations will be surpassed. He inhabits the composer as he plays and it is as if Tcherepnin were playing the works himself.
 
This is another adorable disc of scintillating music brilliantly played and cannot be praised highly enough.
 
Steve Arloff 


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