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It is 14 years since Alexander Tcherepnin’s centenary (not celebrated at the time as widely as it should have been) and 36 since his death so the appearance of three discs of his piano music in rapid succession is as welcome as it is unexpected. The Toccata Classics disc opens with archival recordings made by the composer in New York in March 1965 (produced by the composer Philip Ramey, a former Tcherepnin pupil and subject of an earlier Toccata Classics release) of the two sonatas, Préludes nostalgiques and the ninth of his Op 85 Preludes. The performances are the most exciting of any under review here and have been remastered very finely under the auspices of the Tcherepnin Society. The greater part of the disc is made up of a deliciously varied selection of his smaller pieces (the earliest, the Moment musical of 1913, dating from his mid- teens) and sets of miniatures – the early Petite Suite (1918–19), Entretiens (1920– 30) and 10 Expressions (1951) – all played with compelling assurance by Mikhail Shilyaev.

With the exception of the Expressions, all the pieces performed by Shilyaev are first recordings. The second of Grand Piano’s two releases, between them initiating a series devoted to Tcherepnin played by Giorgio Koukl, would have been almost entirely of premieres had not Toccata Classics pipped them to the post with the Scherzo and Petite Suite. However, the Op 1 Toccata was recorded by Murray McLachlan for Olympia in 2000. On Koukl’s Volume 1, the 1921 Inventions and 1920 Études also appear for the first time on disc; note the misleading opus numbers, respectively 13 and 18, do not reflect the sequence of composition; the Études originate from the same period as the Bagatelles (1912– 18). Indeed, both Grand Piano volumes focus on early works, the exceptions being the Second Sonata (1961; Volume 1) and the essay in rhythmic virtuosity Message (1926; Volume 2 – how has this not been recorded before?). The early sets that rework juvenile miniatures do so with considerable acuity and charm, not least the Bagatelles, Petite Suite and Pièces sans titres. The Op 1 Toccata and Op 3 Scherzo (Koukl’s account a touch slower than Shilyaev’s but better characterised) foreshadow the later creative giant while the pairs of Nocturnes and Dances Opp 2 and 8 indicate the range of influences on his then still-forming creative personality.

Koukl – fresh from his revelatory recordings for Naxos of Martinů’s complete piano music and concertos – proves himself a most sympathetic advocate for Tcherepnin’s music, whether on a small or large scale. It is instructive to compare his interpretations of the sonatas with the composer’s somewhat wayward ones: Koukl may not achieve the same fury in the First Sonata’s opening Allegro commodo but his pacing and structuring of the movement, while subtly different, is just as convincing; and his playing as a whole, especially in the Second Sonata, is much more precise. The sound for both discs is top-notch.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica

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