On Record – Quan Yuan and friends: Three Generations – Chamber Music by Ivan, Alexander and Nikolai Tcherepnin (Toccata Next)

aQuan Yuan (violin), adDavid Witten (piano) with cdSue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin (flute); cIan Greitzer (clarinet); cDonald Berman (piano)

Alexander Tcherepnin Arabesque Op.11/5 (1921)a; Violin Sonata in F major Op.14 (1921)b; Romance WoO7a (1922)a; Élégie Op.43 (1927)a
Ivan Tcherepnin Cadenzas in Transition (1963)c; Pensamiento (1996)d
Nikolai Tcherepnin Poème lyrique Op.9 (1900)a; Andante and Finale Op. posth (1943)a

Toccata Next TOCN0012 [63’40”]

Producers / Engineers abJoel Gordon, cFrank Cunningham, dMicha Schattner

Live performances on c9 February 1997, d3 January 2002, aApril 18/19, 2019, b27 July 2021

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics’s Next imprint continues its enterprising schedule with a release of chamber music by three generations of the Tcherepnin musical dynasty, thereby illustrating the stylistic differences between them while also a degree of continuity across almost a century of music.

What’s the music like?

Nikolai Tcherepnin (1872-1945) may best be remembered as teacher (not least of Prokofiev) and conductor (including the first season of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes), but he left a sizable output across the broad range of genres. Cannily representative of either end of his creativity, Poème Lyrique exudes a demonstrably fin-de-siècle Romanticism in its emotional flights of fancy within an already heightened expressive context, while Andante and Finale finds the aging composer looking back with affection – just a little tinged with regret – to an era four decades passed. If the former piece admits of impressionist elements, the latter looks to the full-blooded manner of Russia’s ‘silver age’ in its bracing energy and ultimate extroversion.

Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977) left a representative body of chamber music, not least for violin and piano – the brief Romance evincing a wistful lyrism that becomes darker and more ambiguous in the Élégie, having found its more capricious outlet in the Arabesque (fifth in a set of five). Much the most substantial of these works, the Violin Sonata comes after the First Piano Concerto and before three sets of songs to Sergei Gorodetzky (as recorded on Toccata TOCC0537). Its three concise movements proceed from an Allegro moderato whose agitation is redolent of Prokofiev, via a Larghetto whose pensive initial bars for piano build to a climax of real eloquence, to a Vivace whose capering dialogue makes its way to an affirmative close.

Ivan Tcherepnin (1943-98) may have left a less tangible legacy than his predecessors, owing largely to his activities earlier being focussed on electronic and installation media. Not that the brief Pensamiento is other than alluring with its interplay between flute and piano, which are joined by clarinet for Cadenzas in Transition. Written while the composer was still in his teens, this ranges freely across textures and moods without ever arriving at a destination – a trajectory which is most likely embodied in its title. Certainly, the contributions of Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin and Ian Greitzer, alongside that of Donald Berman, make the strongest case for a piece that is disconcertingly formless or teasingly improvisatory according to taste.

Does it all work?

Almost always. It has been said that the Tcherepnin’s tended to be reactive in their musical idioms instead of setting the pace for others, but that would be to overlook the distinctiveness of Alexander’s output in particular – a legacy such as deserves to reclaim at least some of the standing it enjoyed in the mid-20th century. Those of Nikolai and especially Ivan can only be reassessed when more of their larger pieces are available. Neither performances nor recording leave anything to be desired, as is equally true of David Witten’s comprehensive booklet notes.

Is it recommended?

Yes, and hopefully Toccata will be issuing more from this source. Nikolai’s later ballets and symphonic poems, or Ivan’s Grawemeyer Award-winning Double Concerto would be a good place to start – while not forgetting the latter’s sons, Stefan and Sergei, are also composers.

For further information on this release, and to purchase, visit the Toccata Classics website. Click on the names to read more about The Tcherepnin Society, and artists Quan Yuan, David Witten, Sue-Ellen Hershman-Tcherepnin, Ian Greitzer and Donald Berman



On record – Alexander Tcherepnin: My Flowering Staff (Toccata Classics)

Alexander Tcherepnin My Flowering Staff (1912-13)

Inna Dukach (soprano), Tatyana Kebuladze (piano), with Paul Whelan (bass) Acmeist Male Choir

Toccata Classics TOCC0537 [57’55”] Russian (Cyrillic) text and translation included

Producer/Engineer Jeremy Gerard

Recorded 21-23 June 2017, 29 December 2018 and 4 January 2019 at the Gurari Studios, National Opera Center, New York City

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics comes up with another first in My Flowering Staff, a song-cycle of almost an hour’s length by Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977), most of whose content was divided across three separate collections and has only now been returned to its original conception.

What’s the music like?

His reputation established initially through his piano music (a representative selection from which, including several archival recordings by the composer, can be found on TOCC0079), Tcherepnin worked intensively on setting this volume of lyrics by Sergei Gorodetsky (1884-1967) during 1920-21, before he summarily abandoned the project with three texts awaiting music. Instead, he published 24 of these songs – albeit to French translation – as his Opp. 15, 16 and 17, then never returned to the song format on such a scale. The other songs remained unheard until 2018, by which time the original Russian texts of the published items had been restored and the undeniable ambition of Tcherepnin’s vision could be more readily adduced.

Not that adducing such a vision is therefore straightforward. Gorodetsky may have reined-in his more abstruse symbolism when he penned these 38 lyrics during 1912-13, but a tendency towards inward communing is seldom far away and it could be precisely this obscurity which attracted Tcherepnin in the first instance; enabling him to align his own preoccupations with the passage from youth to maturity, and from innocence to experience, with the poet’s own ruminations. Anyone expecting a continuity of narrative akin to the song-cycles of Schubert will only be disappointed, yet the fervency of Tcherepnin’s approach is its own justification.

Stylistically, too, these songs exude those attributes of inward ecstasy and ominous anxiety as Tcherepnin’s older contemporaries had previously found in this poet. Vocal lines tend toward the declamatory and have recourse to a wide compass, while the piano writing is harmonically questing without becoming congested or unidiomatic (hence the imposing solo that precedes the 22nd poem) – a consequence of his mastery over this instrument whether as composer or performer. The expressive ambit is opened-out with a setting of the 16th poem for bass and (optional) male chorus, while the overall cycle is framed by an Epigraph and Epilogue which distil those qualities of yearning and fulfilment that dominate the cycle as a whole. Whether Tcherepnin thought its execution to have fallen short of its ambition cannot now be answered.

Does it all work?

Almost, though it is not always easy to perceive the formal trajectory Tcherepnin was intent on pursuing or to what expressive end it was directed. That said, the omitted songs are quite the equal of those he did publish and to hear them all in sequence affords its own fascination. It helps when Inna Dukach renders the overall cycle with just the right alternation of plangent rhetoric or confiding intimacy and receives astute accompaniment from Tatyana Kebuladze. Nor are Paul Whelan and Acmeist Male Choir found wanting in their solitary contribution.

Is it recommended?

Yes, given the conviction of this performance and excellence of recorded sound. Benjamin Folkman’s detailed annotations go a long way to elucidating Tcherepnin’s conception, while Dina Dukach’s English translation similarly clarifies many aspects of Gorodetsky’s musings.



You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording.