Album Title: Alexander Tcherepnin Piano Concertos 1 & 3 / Festmusik / Symphonic March
Noriko Ogawa piano/Lan Shui conductor/Singapore Symphony
Label and #: BIS 1317
Running time:
Jan/Nov 2002

Gobe trotter Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1997) was a virtuoso pianist and prolific composer of inconceivable versatility. His six piano concertos are greatly diversified in concept and style, with the post-romantic First and the modernist Third recorded here cases in point. The First was written when the composer was twenty and under the spell of Sturm und Drang. It's full of the unfailing pianistic charisma of the old school: heroic octaves, meandering arpeggios, acrobatic showmanship and heart-wrenching pathos - except for all being closely knitted into one single movement.

In absolute creative terms, the conventional elements of the concerto are not lacking originality. The abrupt brake of the introduction to make way for the timpani is highly effective. The piano then confronts the timpani and assumes its dominant role with rapid runs of scale and fierce octave assaults. The many cadenza-like passages seem to be tailor-made for pianist Noriko Ogawa, who is well at home with the rustic Caucasian lyricism (Tcherepnin had just moved to Georgia with his family fleeing from the Revolution). The Singapore Symphony Orchestra under the leadership of Lan Shui showcases a kaleidoscope of modern orchestration of the highest order. Towards the end of the work, the dramatic opening theme recurs and propels us into a feverish tournament between the soloist and the orchestra that made me hold my breath. Tcherepnin didn't use the term Allegro tumultuoso lightly.

Conversely, soloist and orchestra are on more equal footing in the Third Piano Concerto. Although undeniably modern in style due to the use of twelve-tone technique (the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are given equal importance and therefore sound atonal), the concerto is surprising tuneful for its kind. Tcherepnin became no slave of the technique but freed his pen from the mechanical format and applied it skillfully to create a suspenseful and mysterious mood for the solo piano to bridge the otherwise fragmental themes. The ever-changing mood of the concerto is like a journal's travelogue kept by the composer throughout the span of its composition. The ports of call began with Boston and concluded with Cairo and Jerusalem. The national colors and geological flavor of each place are vividly captured. (The cover photo shows a camel-back Tcherepnin touring Egypt.) Ogawa and Lan Shui's orchestra collaborate like chamber musicians and exchange the most intriguing intellectual dialogue that is also intimate at times.

Festmusik comprises four ballet numbers from the opera The Wedding of Sobeide originally written for German theaters. With an oriental backdrop, the ballet naturally lent itself to exotic orchestration accentuated by Caucasian brush strokes and Turkish colors. Listen to the timpani solo and brass extravaganza in "Entrance" and percussions galore dotted by complex rhythms in "Finale". What a sonic feast! Symphonic March (1951) is an orchestral parade of great numbers and heavy-weight caliber. The Singapore Symphony and the BIS recording team once again display wizardry to swing it into a 3D audio sensation.