WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 5
PERFORMER: Noriko Ogawa (piano); Singapore SO/Lan Shui
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1017
The most considerable creative voice in a composing dynasty that has so far spanned three generations, Alexander Tcherepnin was a Russian-born cosmopolitan whose reputation briefly matched Prokofiev’s, yet most of his large output has remained unknown. These three comparatively major works, sympathetically presented, are thus very welcome. Tcherepnin’s musical language was basically neo-classical – given piquancy by his cultivation of various non-diatonic modes and scales, vaguely oriental in character, whose lasting significance seems rather less than he claimed for them at the time. Yet the First Symphony, which provoked a satisfying riot at its Parisian premiere in 1927, is much more than an interesting period piece, and its scherzo (for unpitched percussion only) is a real tour de force.
The Fifth Piano Concerto (1963), with its echoes of Bartók and Prokofiev, lacks the depth or pungency of either but is still an enjoyable display piece, by a composer who, like them, was a virtuoso of the instrument. I was charmed, though, by the Second Symphony (1947): though supposedly shadowed by the experience of World War II and the death of Tcherepnin’s father, it has a Korngold-like melodic opulence and sheer wealth of invention that are immensely appealing. It’s superbly crafted, too, with a fluid succession of funereal slow movement, grotesque ‘big-band’ scherzo and breezy bonhomous finale that suggests Tcherepnin could have had a notable Hollywood career if he’d wanted it. Calum MacDonald