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Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
String Quintet in G, Op. 14 (1903) [38.55]
Paul Rosenthal, Ilya Teplyakov (violins); Aleksey Koptev (viola); Leonid Shikayev, Peter Rejto (cellos).
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
String Quartet in A minor, Op. 35, for two cellos (1894) [27.41]
Ik-Hwan Bae (viola); Paul Coletti (viola); Michal Kanka, Peter Rejto (cellos).
rec. Winter Chamber Music Festival, Tucson, Arizona, USA, 2003?.
Notes in English.


Comparison recordings:

Taneyev Quintet: Vladimir Ovcharek, Grigory Lutsky (violins); Vissarion Solovyev (viola); Josif Levinson, Beniamin Morozov (cellos). Melodiya LP C10-16965-6

Arensky Op 35a (second mvt. orch. only): Brusilow, Philadelphia CO. RCA LP LSC 3020.

There are remarkable similarities between these two composers. They lived at the same time and same place. Both were brilliant students who won many honors. Both were teachers of Rachmaninov, Gliere and Scriabin. Both were students and close friends of Tchaikovsky. Neither ever married or showed any interest in women. Both had their lives cut short by alcoholism - although Taneyev had been a confirmed teetotaller in his early life, and found himself the object of embarrassing and unwelcome attentions from Tolstoy’s wife. There is no direct evidence of another possible similarity, that they both might have been closet homosexuals, the experience of living in repressive Tsarist society having partly fuelled their alcoholism, as with Mussorgsky. 

There are similarities in the works also, in that they both have written parts for two cellos, and both have their longest movements in theme and variation form, and finish with an extensive fugue. A final similarity is that these live recordings, made by different artists at different times, are both excellent, of the highest calibre of chamber playing in accuracy, verve, expressiveness and ensemble spirit; the audience applause shows they were well appreciated. In the Taneyev there are some noisy page turns and even grunts from the musicians, but not to any obtrusive extent. The technical quality of the recording is also of the very highest calibre giving an unimpeded sense of being in the presence of the musicians. 

The exquisite polish of this recording of the Taneyev is in part explained by the fact that Teplyakov, Koptov and Shukaev are members of the St. Petersburg [Russia] String Quartet and one may assume that they brought the music for the Taneyev work in their luggage from Russia since Taneyev’s music was all but unknown in the West. However considering the generous spate of recordings recently, it appears that Taneyev is going to be the Next Big Thing in classical repertoire, and about time. A good thing it is for us, and all the rest. 

This Quintet has always been one of Taneyev’s most popular and frequently heard works and this excellent recording is very welcome. The original wiry, bass deficient, Melodiya LP performance may have a slight edge in panache, but certainly not in sound quality or presence. Both performances are deeply committed. Both sets of artists “get” all the musical jokes — witty references to works by Taneyev’s friends such as Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov — and play them up properly. The humorous aspects of the work are underlined by the “laughter motif”, a descending marcato hexachord, which is repeated at intervals throughout the work, at last in direct prelude to some spooky “nachtmusik” which dissolves into fragrant whiffs of Borodin at the finale. This is a work which repays a lot of careful listening. 

The Arensky work is also known in a string orchestra arrangement of the second movement only, as “Variations on a Theme from Tchaikovsky”, Op 35a, and in this form it is probably Arensky’s most popular and frequently played work, having been originally written for a Tchaikovsky memorial concert in 1894. The Tchaikovsky theme in question is from the children’s song, “The Christ Child had a garden ...”. The duplication in the cello register serves to emphasize the somber quality of the texture. The final movement of the quartet - not included in the orchestra version - is a fugue on a popular Russian theme used by Mussorgsky in Boris Godunov and by Beethoven in his “Rasoumovsky” Quartet Op 59, no. 2.

Paul Shoemaker 




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