A Tcherepnin Family Portrait in Music

The Tcherepnin family is a true musical dynasty. It began with composer and pianist Nicolai Tcherepnin in the Soviet Union. His son, Alexander was also a composer and pianist. He left the USSR in the 1920s, eventually settling in the United States. His two sons, Serge and Ivan were both composers. Ivan, an innovative composer of electronic music, had two sons, Stefan and Sergei. Both are contemporary composers.

Although this album is a two-disc set, there’s not enough room to represent all the Tcherepnins. This release presents the first three generations of Tcherepnin composers. And it also makes Alexander Tcherepnin the focus. His father Nicolai is represented by his String Quartet in A minor. A work for soprano and string quartet by his son Ivan is also included.

Alexander Tcherapnin has two string quartets and a piano quintet on the release. Nicolai’s string quartet was written in 1900. It’s very much a work in the Russian Romantic style, and quite beautiful.

Ivan Tcherepnin ran Harvard’s University Electronic Music Studio. He was considered an avant-garde composer. His 1996 work “There Was No Wind” has a restless energy to it. But it still uses a tonal language (albeit one with a lot of extended string techniques). It’s a good choice for this release.

Positioned next to Alexander’s 1927 Piano Quintet, one can hear some similarities. In both works the composers are pushing against the limits of tonality. Ivan may go farther, but only because he was building on 70 years of musical innovation.

Alexander’s music is nicely poised between the past and the present. The three works are all from the 1920s. He uses traditional forms and techniques while extending the reach of traditional tonalities. Some sections reminded me of Hindemith or Bartok. But those were passing resemblances. Alexander, like the rest of his family, writes in his own voice, communicating his own vision.

The Michelangelo Quartet delivers some stellar performances. They have a real presence that demands active listening. This album is but a glimpse of the Tcherpnin musical legacy. But it encourages further exploration.

Nikolai, Alexander, Ivan Tcherepnin
String Quartets, Piano Quintet, “There Was No Wind”
Sibhan Stagg; Giuseppe Mentuccia
Michelangelo Quartet
2 CD set

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