For all its cordiality Taneyev’s relationship with Tchaikovsky
– first as a pupil then as a friend – must have been difficult
at times. For instance the older composer’s comments appear to
have put the brakes on Taneyev’s Symphony No. 2. That said
the critical and creative dialogue flowed both ways; indeed, Taneyev
was inclined to be blunt, so much so that Tchaikovsky often dreaded
the younger man’s opinions and suggestions. Taneyev was certainly
multi-talented, the first student in the history of the Moscow
Conservatory to win the gold medal for both composition and performance.
Given their close
and continuing friendship it’s no surprise that Taneyev’s
early orchestral efforts owe much to Tchaikovsky’s model.
That is certainly true of his Symphony No. 1, which
was written in response to his mentor’s ‘Little Russian’ symphony
have reversed the order of the symphonies on this disc but
I will deal with the earlier work first. The opening Allegro
has a Tchaikovskian expansiveness, with a strong pulse and
sense of inner tension. For all that there is an almost foursquare
feel to the music, which majors in seriousness rather than
brilliance. The playing of the Russian band – the first time
I have heard them – seems idiomatic enough, although the strings
sound undernourished at times. Unfortunately the acoustic
is rather dry and perspectives are flattened, with little
or no reverberation.
For the most part
Thomas Sanderling – son of the illustrious Kurt – steers the
ship past potential hazards, although he does come close to
the doldrums in the central section of the Allegro,
before finding a favourable wind at the majestic close. Having
finally got under way Sanderling settles for a gentle breeze
in the Andantino, quasi allegretto. There is a contrasting
lightness here, both in terms of texture and rhythm; in fact
this is as genial and relaxed as the music is likely to get,
the strings now sounding wonderfully poised in the pizzicato
passages and suitably passionate in the surging tunes.
change of tack in the Scherzo: Vivace assai, which
has a new found momentum in those repeated figures for strings
bolstered by crisp playing from the timps. The repeated motif
that runs through the movement like an idée fixe is
most effective. And just listen to how Taneyev makes the music
dance at 1:04 and 4:19. This is certainly some of his most
individual and spontaneous writing so far.
all his sails in the Finale: Allegro molto. There is
a sweep to the music, not to mention a Dvořákian sense
of anticipation as land hoves into view. Fortunately there
is little bluster to impede the vessel’s progress, although
the strings are inclined to coarseness under full sail. The
final moments are strongly reminiscent of Tchaikovsky at his
balletic best, with a wonderful mix of ardour and excitement.
What a thrilling conclusion to a thoroughly entertaining work.
By contrast Symphony
No. 3 is an altogether weightier, more tightly argued
piece. Textures are certainly more Brahmsian but there are
moments when the music hints at Brucknerian nobility. It’s
just a hint, though, with none of the latter’s vaulting, architectonic
writing; on the contrary, Taneyev is much more contained and
formal, achieving a certain solidity of style.
Only 10 years
separate these works, yet from the opening of the Allegro
con spirito it’s clear Taneyev has begun to cultivate
a symphonic style more of his own. Even so the Brucknerian
echoes I alluded to earlier can be heard in the string section
beginning at 0:50. For the rest there is a rhythmic tautness
and rather more subtle instrumental colouring than before,
yet still the symphony retains that sense of classical proportion.
This is not heart-on-sleeve Romanticism; indeed, the soubriquet
‘the Russian Brahms’ is most appropriate at this point.
Despite its structural
integrity this movement is not without its longueurs.
Thankfully the fleet-footed Scherzo – moved up
to second place in the symphony – offers some respite. I found
this music vaguely Mendelssohnian at times, with some noble
brass writing to its credit. That said Taneyev is not given
to lavish gestures, which is frustrating if, like me, you
long for a little more unpredictability. Clearly that isn’t
his way, and I suspect Brahms aficionados will appreciate
that more than most.
boasts some of Taneyev’s most delicate scoring. There is a
pleasing mix of elegance and inwardness that is certainly
more Romantic in feeling, but that sense of containment remains
intact. What a contrast the contrapuntal brilliance of the
Finale makes, though. Frustratingly Taneyev keeps a
tight rein on his emotions but at least he never allows the
music to become overblown or rhetorical. The Novosibirsk band
inject plenty of brio into the bright Allegro,
although a warmer acoustic would have given the sound a bit
more glow in the tuttis.
clearly derivative Taneyev’s Symphony No. 1 strikes
me as the more extrovert of the two. That may have more to
do with my own ambivalence towards Brahms, whose shade haunts
the Third from beginning to end. For what it’s worth
these symphonies are not in the same league as, say, those
of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov; for all his skill Taneyev
surely belongs somewhere below Glière and Glazunov on the
list of 19th-century Russian symphonists.
So a worthy issue,
if not a particularly inspired one. The playing and conducting
are perfectly adequate but it would be idle to pretend this
is great music. Solid is a word that crops up in my notes
more than once, and that is as honest a description of these
symphonies as any.