(1856-1915) Complete String Quartets
– Vol. 1 String Quartets: No.
1 in B flat minor, Op. 4 (1890) [34:29]; No. 3 in D minor, Op. 7
(1886, rev. 1896) [26:54]
Carpe Diem String
rec. Mees Hall, Capital University Columbus, Ohio, 22-23 May 2006. DDD NAXOS 8.570437
A fascinating disc. The music of Sergei Taneyev is fully worthy
of investigation. A reputation for academicism has dogged this
composer so that over time his works have been completely overshadowed.
He is much better known for being the teacher of Rachmaninov and
Scriabin than for any works of his own. Yet Mikhail Pletnev, no
less, has championed Taneyev's cantata John of Damascus
- a stunning performance, coupling it with Rachmaninov's The
Bells: see review).
The American Carpe
Diem Quartet plays with a burnished tone that is entirely
appropriate for this music. The first quartet we hear, although
indicated as No. 1, was in fact Taneyev's Fifth. It is cast
in five movements, meaning that the short, central Presto
acts as something of a structural pivot. The first movement
is an Andante espressivo, exploratory in nature and containing
moments of great stillness. The musical language seems remarkably
close to Tchaikovsky's melancholy. The first slow movement,
a Largo, is more pronouncedly Brahmsian in utterance, its
slow-moving lyricism given full justice by the players’ burnished
sound. If there is a hint of a Beethoven scherzo to the Presto
- I think of Op. 130 - the mode of utterance nevertheless
remains identifiably Russian at heart. The hesitancy of the
first part of the Intermezzo (marked Andantino) is most affecting,
especially when played in these hushed, almost reverential
tones. The musical material makes reference to the popular
Russian song, Dark Eyes. The finale scampers playfully,
meaning the witty final gesture makes perfect sense. There
is an alternative version of this quartet available – the
Taneyev Quartet on the Northern Flowers label, coupled with
the Fourth Quartet but I have yet to hear this.
The Third Quartet
comprises only two movements. The sombre first movement is
the shortest (at 9:19). Unfortunately I have not had access
to the score - it would be interesting to see the notation
- for despite the tempo indication of Allegro, this could
pass muster for a slow movement in almost all contexts. The
second movement is a Theme and Variations. Booklet annotator
Dina Lentsner is right to identify a Mozartian element in
the lightness and grace of the theme, given out here with
delicious charm. The Carpe Diem Quartet evidently takes great
pleasure in Taneyev's set of variations, particularly the
more virtuoso parts.
The fact this is billed
as Volume 1 is cause for some enthusiastic celebration. Naxos
can sometimes leave long gaps between volumes; the continuing
series of Tchaikovsky songs is testament to this habit. Let us
hope Volume 2 follows on swiftly.
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