Fallen Star

Alexander Tcherepnin, 1899-1977, pianist, composer. Such a description says it all and tells you nothing. He was born in St. Petersburg, Russia to an artistic and musical family. His father a musician and composer, his mother a singer and part of the visually artistic Benois family. Together their connections with other notables in the art world of St Petersburg were extensive, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsacov, Diaghilev, to name a few. These influences lead Alexander towards painting and music, which he actively pursued through his teens. These were rocky years for Czarist Russia. As circumstances changed, the revolution spurred the family to flee to Georgia 1918. The move was short lived. Fleeing again, they arrived in Paris in 1921 where Alexander soon made a name for himself as a pianist performing mostly his own compositions. Touring took his talent around the world. Once in Shanghai, where he meets another young pianist, Lee Hsien Ming, he not only falls in love with her, but with her country and its music. He settles there for several years teaching at the Shanghai Conservatory. WWII takes him back to Paris. After the war, he settled in the United States, where he taught at DePaul University, Chicago, until 1964. His last years were spent bouncing between New York and Paris. The eclectic family background, the social connections and the international travels combined to make their way into his music. Well grounded in Post-Romanticism, yet not ignorant of modernist movements, his music is rich, varied, entertaining, and energetic. All considered, it’s perplexing how a talent this deep, and as well known in his time, has been overshadowed by other composer/performers, namely, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Rubinstein, Scriabin, and Shostakovich. Google “famous russian composers.” Tcherepnin is not likely to show up, not even in the top twenty.

I love discovering fallen stars. Tcherepnin is one of those rare talents who no longer gets his do, not because he was a one hit wonder, nor because his talent was second rate, neither apply. He’s simply been forgotten. How many names can stay at the top? We humans only hold so much information front and center before some of it has to get pushed to the edges, farther and farther, then soon—out of sight, out of mind. Whether past or present, there are thousands, if not millions, of exceptionally gifted people across the planet who will never be heard of beyond their own small circle.

After my first listening to his six piano concerti, I anxiously looked forward to listening again. Each one displays his expansive imagination. Each demands great virtuosity from the soloist. Each demands as much from the orchestra. And it’s the orchestral parts that hold the strongest draws to these concerti. The orchestra is not relegated to being merely an accompanist, set in the background, never to distract us from the soloist. No, it’s an equal partner playing a powerful role that adds tremendous scale to the music. These are true concerti. The etymology of the word is to harmonize together, to strive alongside, or earlier, to strive against. Concerti that leave the orchestral as an after thought, and make it all about the soloist, are tiresome and boring. Tcherepnin never forgets he has this huge resource to draw from. He made equal use of his global experiences. Chinese folk music finds its way into Concerto #4; modern atonalism finds its way into Concerto #5, but he never forgets tonalism, clearly present in all the concerti. Percussion, rhythm, and repetition also play important roles in his music, devices he uses to give each piece its own character.

I will not forget Alexander Tcherepnin. Next in line to acquire are his four symphonies.

This 2 CD set is a reissue on Brilliant Classics of the original BIS Records high quality recordings. The complete Symphonies are still available on the BIS label, but as a 4 CD set which includes the piano concerti and a few other orchestral works.

(||) Rating — Music : A+ ║ Performance : A+ ║ Recording : A ║
 Alexander Tcherepnin; Noriko Ogawa, pianist; Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Lan Shui conductor, Complete Piano Concertos, Brilliant Classics, 2011

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