SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano = Sonata No. 1 in D; No. 3 in F-sharp; Ode; The Well-Tempered Cello; Mystere; Songs and Dances – Michal Kaňka, cello/ Miguel Borges Coelho, p. – Praga Digitals

An outstanding introduction to a once-famous composer.

Published on March 12, 2013

ALEXANDER TCHEREPNIN: Complete Works for Cello and Piano = Sonata No. 1 in D, Op. 29; No. 2, Op. 30/1; No. 3 in F-sharp, Op. 30/2; Ode; The Well-Tempered Cello, Op. 38; Mystere, Op. 37/2; Songs and Dances, Op. 84 – Michal Kaňka, cello/ Miguel Borges Coelho, piano – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD 250290, 77:34 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Most people are not familiar with Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977), or his sons Serge and Ivan, even lesser lights publically. Alexander, whose father also was a composer who studied with Rimsky-Korsakov, was a wide-ranging intellect whose musical proclivities pointed in many directions. A proponent of early electronic music experiments, he also created his own harmonic language, involving the use of synthetic scales, derived by combining minor and major hexachords that came to be known as the “Tcherepnin scale”. His first symphony was revolutionary in its involvement of unpitched percussion instruments and nothing else. He wrote concertos, symphonies, ballets, and three operas. Though this description makes him sound like a bona-fide member of the avant-garde, in fact his musical inclinations were far more traditional in nature than what the 1940s and 1950s would produce. There was never any reaction against tonal music, as his 200 pieces of short piano music (done after his family had left revolutionary Russia for Georgia, and ultimately Paris after Georgia fell) testify to this. An early prize in composition (1925) and a successful debut as pianist fueled his career early, and late residence in the United States culminated in a number of important connections with conductors and orchestras there. But as time went on, his music, with the exception of a few pieces, fell into oblivion for the most part, and the man who was once known as a “second Stravinsky” is no longer considered such.

His music, while unusual, is not something that is difficult or unlikable. On the contrary, the three sonatas for cello on this disc show a mind that is ever stretching in its ability to come up with creative and fanciful melodies and harmonies that are pregnant in their ability to move and fascinate. Technically he knows the instrument very well and manages its difficulties with the skill of a born player, which he was not. The Well-Tempered Cello is an interesting work that uses a nine-note modal scale as its basis, conflicting in its spin through twelve scales with the “fixed” piano, again musical values far outstripping any experimentation for experimentations’ sake. Songs and Dances was written for Gregor Piatigorsky in 1954, and is a superbly virtuosic suite that brings to mind the composer’s travels around the world, and sort of travelogue in international folk songs.

Both performers do due credit to the music, making a case that should resound in the ears of anyone who is open to refreshing takes on tonality with a high melodic content. The music moves and is also subtly exotic in nature, and this is captured by this team to perfection. Who says small chamber music doesn’t benefit from surround sound? Not me! Get this disc—an excellent way to acquaint you with a much-neglected composer.

—Steven Ritter




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