Nikolai Tcherepnin (1873-1945) was a well-known and influential figure in his day, but unlike the music of his son Alexander, Nikolai's music appears to receive scant exposure these days. On the evidence of the music on this disc, this situation is quite inexplicable - this is memorably melodic, appealing, imaginative music, personal yet approachable and immediately attractive, and the program here reveals a composer with a wide range of compositional resources.
The three pieces op. 24 are romantic and intensely atmospheric, comprising a singing, haunting RÍverie, a stormy Etude and a marvelously wistful idylle. These are relatively early works and the style is obviously indebted to the example of Chopin rather than particularly individual, but none the worse for that, and they are apt to be beloved by anyone who at all enjoys romantic piano music. The language is slightly more harmonically explorative, and the voice more obviously personal, in the 14 Sketches on Pictures from the Russian Alphabet - 14 small but exquisitely crafted and often memorable, atmospheric snapshots inspired by the illustrations to a children's book. One is perhaps sometimes reminded of Tchaikovsky's op. 72 pieces, but Tcherepnin's miniatures are superior and display a far greater range when writing for the piano. Indeed, this is, despite the short duration of each individual numbers, a collection of gems. It certainly doesn't hurt that Toccata also gives us color reproductions of the pictures that inspired the composer.
In the "6 Musical Illustrations to Pushkin's `The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish'" the harmonic language is even more distinctive - indeed, it doesn't really sound like anything else (apparently there exists an orchestral version as well). Originally supposed to be accompanied by a narrator reciting the tale, the images conjured up by the piano are vivid enough by themselves - and the booklet also gives us the full text - and, though not as immediately appealing as the preceding 14 Sketches (though more original), this is a really fascinating piece. David Witten turns in excellent performances, full of warmth, color, subtlety and sensitivity, and he is captured in warm, clear sound. All in all, I was deeply impressed with this disc, and though I at one point deliberated whether to award it four or five stars, the color reproduction of the pictures and the full text for the Fisherman really clinched the matter. Strongly recommended.