Tcherepnin: Complete Piano Music, Vol. 3 / Giorgio Koukl, piano


This is the third volume from the Grand Piano label of the complete piano music by Alexander Tcherepnin, performed by Giorgio Koukl. Grand Piano has been a clear leader in the exposure of piano music by curiously neglected composers, and this Tcherepnin series has been one of the most enjoyable.

Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977) was a Russian-born composer who came from a musically gifted family. He spent his early years in St. Petersburg before his family fled to Georgia to escape the tumult of the Russian Revolution. The family moved to Paris in 1921 where Alexander studied at the Paris Conservatoire before commencing his career as a pianist, conductor and composer.

Tcherepnin works here in miniature forms. He does this so effectively that it's a large part of the allure of this music. Rarely will a movement describe more than a single mood. Rather, Tcherepnin depicts one emotion in a short vignette, and follows this with another, often quite remote in character. The music is seldom atonal. In fact, it is romantic and highly virtuosic, but often with close chromatic harmonies. He also employs striking rhythms and keyboard techniques. At one point, both hands play with sharp articulation in the highest register of the piano, producing a sound similar to the comb-like steel tongs of a music box.

You can hear all of this in the sample provided, which is the entirety of the Four Preludes, Op. 24 - one of several world premiere recordings on the CD. The set opens with a Giocoso (merry, playful) which is anything but. It is in a minor mode and there's a motoric monotony to the main theme, which Koukl plays with very little inflection. After a bleak, fifty second Adagio comes an Allegretto, beginning in a completely different, bright and innocent way. But Tcherepin doesn't allow this feeling to last for long, reverting to a minor mode and altering the melody for a bizarrely, eerie effect. The final piece, an Allegro, is a variation on the music heard in the opening Giocoso, and at just under two minutes is the longest of the set.

Giorgio Koukl plays the music beautifully, with just the right agogic effect, sensitively and subtly applied. If you enjoyed the sample Four Préludes, you'll likely take pleasure in the entire album, much of it sunny and cheerful as Tcherepnin expresses myriad emotions.

The music here is NOT on this Grand Piano CD, but in searching for something that was, I came across it, and it's just too lovely not to share.