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

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On Record – Basil Vendryes & William David: Three Centuries of Russian Viola Sonatas (Toccata Next)

Basil Vendryes (viola) & William David (piano)

Bunin Viola Sonata in D minor Op.26 (1955)
Glinka (ed. Borisovsky) Viola Sonata in D minor (1825-8)
Shebalin Viola Sonata in F minor Op.51/2 (1954)
Sokolov Viola Sonata (2006)

Toccata Next TOCN0014 [69’31”]

Producers Basil Vendryes, William David
Engineers Bras Smalling, Athena Wilkinson

Recorded 28 September – 1 October 2020 at Mathie Music Salon, Glendale, Colorado

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics’s Next imprint comes up with an enterprising concept in four viola sonatas extending across 178 years of Russian music, all sympathetically played and recorded while revealing numerous similarities, as well as contrasts, in approach between these composers.

What’s the music like?

Chamber music occupied Mikhail Glinka (1804-57) for barely a decade until the early 1830s, but there are substantial pieces – among them a Viola Sonata whose finale was never written, and slow movement finished in 1932 by Vadim Borisovsky (founder violist of the Beethoven Quartet). The resulting torso is still impressive in its formal ambition and expressive sweep – whether the Allegro moderato with its decidedly serious and often combative tone, then the Larghetto whose halting lyricism yields appealing if restrained eloquence towards the close.

Despite building a sizable catalogue, including 10 symphonies (the second being premiered by Yevgeny Mravinsky), Revol Bunin (1924-76) died without having attained real success at home or abroad. Written for Rudolf Barshai, his Viola Sonata is deceptively understated as to its technical demands and musical substance – a weighty opening Allegro setting up decisive contrast with a central Andantino of greater pathos than its ‘semplice’ marking suggests, then a sombre introduction into another Allegro that maintains unflagging purpose until its ending.

Currently residing in Germany and best known as a pianist of wide-ranging sympathies, Ivan Sokolov (b1960) contributes a Viola Sonata whose relative brevity (barely 12 minutes) feels matched by its circumspection – the pensive opening Allegro leading, via an unaccompanied passage, into an Andante akin to an ‘album-leaf’ in its unaffected poise then an even shorter Allegro which functions as the improvisatory scherzo into a finale revisiting both mood and material of the first movement, now imbued with a fatalism that persists through to the close.

The music of Vissarion Shabalin (1902-63) is showing tentative signs of a return to favour – understandable in the case of his Viola Sonata, central part in a triptych of such pieces also for violin and cello. Written just before that by Bunin, the opening Allegro is less forceful in its rhythmic profile if more accommodating in melodic content, with the central Andante all but permeated by folksong inflections across its reticent course – an aspect shared by the final Allegro with its respectively animated and amiable themes, rounded off by a trenchant close.

Does it all work?

Yes. Not all these works are of equal quality, but the Bunin and Shebalin sonatas should be in the still too limited repertoire for this instrument while also representing these underestimated composers at something near their best. Both works, incidentally, are otherwise unavailable in modern recordings so that Basil Vendryes and William David place listeners in their debt with their perceptive if sometimes overly dogged readings. The sound is a little dry but never to the detriment of this music-making, with Derek Katz’s detailed notes an undoubted enhancement.

Is it recommended?

It is. Those who acquire it will hopefully be encouraged to seek out further music by the latter three composers – Shebalin being adequately represented (though his symphonies and string quartets need to be reissued), Bunin hardly at all and Sokolov with a further Toccata release.

For further information on this release, and to purchase, visit the Toccata Classics website. Click on the composer’s name for more on Ivan Sokolov, and here for more information on a disc of chamber and instrumental music, also on the Toccata label. Click on the artist names for more on Basil Vendryes and William David.