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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Sergey Ivanovich TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Symphony No. 2 in B flat major (1880?) [35.54]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor (1898) [39.21]
Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky
rec Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, April 2001 (4); May 2001 (2) DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 9998 [75.22]


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Both Taneyev and Balakirev helped direct the development of Tchaikovsky. While Balakirev has never been short of orchestral recordings (nimbly helped along by the interest taken by Beecham and Karajan in the First Symphony) Taneyev has struggled to grasp any public attention.

The first movement of the Second Symphony is gravely liturgical and pregnant with tension then fiery with an energy half Coriolan and half Dvořák's Eighth Symphony. It reminded me of Fibich's Third Symphony. The stolid andante of this three movement symphony is almost as long as the first movement at 13.01. Its nature is reticent and hymnal lit by woodwind silverpoints. The Allegro is big-boned and stompingly uproarious mixing a tendency to colossal dance figures (like Beethoven's Seventh Symphony) with Dvořák. The trumpet assertion at 4.27 in the third movement glares in dark celebration. The last few minutes sound rather Tchaikovskian.

The Fourth Symphony is in four movements. It makes the most of the hall's cavernous and lively acoustic. This is made to sound like a big piece about the great life themes and eternal issues. The brass addresses are melodramatic, chasmal and inkily turbulent suggestive of Tchaikovsky's Manfred and early Miaskovsky with the odd dash of Brahms along the way. The contented adagio is about the same length as the andante of the Second Symphony. Its successor is a skipping wind-led scherzo in which the more animated sections of Beethoven's Pastoral meet the scherzo qualities of Glazunov's Fourth and Fifth Symphonies. The gutsy finale is sturdy and ends in brassy grandeur, braying glory and Brahmsian majesty. The Symphony is dedicated to Glazunov who also conducted its premiere. This is the only Tanayev symphony to have been published.

I have been critical of Polyansky's approach in the Glazunov symphonies. I had my concerns here but in fact he plays these two works with zest and character; genuinely engaged by their invention. Polyansky was a pupil of Oddisey Dimitriada (who recorded several of Glazunov's more obscure orchestral pieces for Melodiya) and of Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

The notes are by David Nice, one of the leading authorities on Russian music. He does not explain why it is that the only Taneyev symphonies we ever hear are these two. Whatever happened to the First and Third?

This is not the first time that these two works have been coupled. The Marco Polo CD was rather a damp squib and by all accounts the interpretatively much better Melodiya Harmonia Mundi CD was rather raw and unsubtle. [Jeffrey Davis writes in to say there is also an identical coupling with the USSR Radio and TV Orchestra/Fedoseyev (Symphony 2) and Novosibirsk PO/Arnold Katz (Symphony 4) on Russian disc RDCD11008]

Stonkingly good performances of music that, rather like the Glazunov symphonies, only succeeds when it is played all out. Polyansky sloughs off his reputation for the languid and the meandering to give these two symphonies the performances of a lifetime.

Rob Barnett


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