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Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Piano Music

Piano Concerto in E flat major (unfinished) (1876) [33:28]
Prelude in F major [3:15]; Lullaby in B flat major [3:25]; Theme and Variations [10:17]; Allegro in E flat major [7:45]; Andantino semplice in B minor [5:06]; Repose (Elegy) in E major [3:04]; March in D minor [2:03]; Four Improvisations: ((i) Moderato [1:15] (ii) Allegretto [0:46] (iii) Allegro scherzando [0:43]; (iv) Largo [1:15]); The Composer's Birthday for narrator and piano - four hands [2:00]; The Composer's Birthday for piano - four hands [1:53]
Joseph Banowetz (piano)
Russian Philharmonic of Moscow/Thomas Sanderling
Vladimir Ashkenazy (narrator)
Adam Wodnicki (piano)
rec. Moscow, 2006

At one time the province of the romantic piano concerto belonged to Genesis and Candide-Vox-Turnabout. Now it has been well and truly occupied by Hyperion; not that they have things all their own way. The concerto by Pavel Pabst emerged on Cameo Classics not so long ago. Similar concertos have appeared from Kleos (Achron) and here and now on Martin Anderson's Toccata Classics.

Sergei Taneyev was a composer with a rigorously applied value code. He was a doyen of the Moscow Conservatoire where his pupils included the pianist Goldenweiser, the critic and composer Leonid Sabaneyev as well as Scriabin, Medtner, Gliere and Rachmaninov. He had in the last year of his studentship premiered the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto and some of that work's sound-world suffuses his own sole piano concerto of 1876 - a work sadly left incomplete. It has many facets including a Beethovenian grandeur, a predilection for Lisztian glitter, a Schumann-like romantic waywardness and the sort of tuneful gift we can hear in the piano concertos of Scriabin and Arensky. The melody that dominates the first of the two surviving movements is rather done to death but it stands up pretty well across a massive 25 minutes. The diminutive 8:24 Andante Funebre announces a grave nobility; something of the Chopin funeral march about it. Those sombre brass voices unmistakably suggest the catafalque. That we can hear even this fragment is down to the orchestration and realisation of Vissarion Shebalin. Had this concerto been completed in proportion - and assuming a three movement schema - we would have been confronted with a work of some seventy minutes. Fascinating. What remains and has been salved is impressive in its own right.

The solo piano music now .... The 1895 Prelude is the only survivor of three written for Alexander Siloti. There is something of Medtner's nobility of spirit about this work from a then mature composer. The folk origins of the 1881 Lullaby can be heard. The Theme and Variations of 1874 were inspired by the Tchaikovsky Original Theme and Variations of 1874. It must not be forgotten that Taneyev and Tchaikovsky held each other in trusted esteem. They were accustomed to criticising each others works in a way similar to that of Holst and RVW. Taneyev weaves into the work a melody from Tchaikovsky's Second String Quartet. The Schumann-inflected Allegro in E flat major belongs to his student years. The Andantino Semplice is coloured by the music of Brahms and of Anton Rubinstein. The scudding March of 1879 is lively and full of bounce. The joint work of Taneyev, Glazunov, Arensky and Rachmaninov can be heard in the collaborative Four Improvisations. This is a light-hearted piece. Of the four the Largo in F minor is especially regal and effective. The Composer's Birthday is for narrator and piano four hands with the speaker and the other pair of hands here being those of Vladimir Ashkenazy. We get to hear both the version with narration and without. The Composer in question is Tchaikovsky. Taneyev wrote the work for Tchaikovsky’s 52nd birthday and wove into it quotes from Mazeppa, Queen of Spades, Iolanta, Maid of Orleans and Onegin - Tchaikovsky's first love was opera - alongside Francesca and the Second Symphony.

The thorough notes - with the luxurious addition of music examples - are by Anastasia Belina whose research on Taneyev is displayed to grand effect.

I see that Chandos have just issued their second pair of Taneyev symphonies conducted by Polyansky. Taneyev wrote four. This joins an earlier CD of the other two symphonies to bring all of them into availability for the first time. If this new disc is anything like the first it will find Polyansky - an artist seemingly addicted to lethargic tempi in his Glazunov cycle - in magnificent form. He continues to surprise though we seem to hear less of him these days.

Quite apart from the string quartets, once available on Melodiya LPs, the other work that merits urgent revival is Taneyev's stern opera The Oresteia. This was issued on Olympia in 1988 (Olympia OCD195A+B) but has now disappeared from circulation. Will some company rescue this superb and volatile recording from oblivion? I hope so. It is probably Taneyev's finest piece.

This is the first appearance on disc of the surviving head and trunk of the Taneyev concerto - a work in a tradition both grand and florid. It is coupled with some attractive music for solo piano. The playing time is generous and Toccata uphold an admirable and quickly established tradition for excellence in recording and in sumptuous annotation. Now if only they would turn their attention to the pair of piano concertos by Dzerzhinsky and the symphony by Yuri Shaporin.

Rob Barnett


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