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Anton ARENSKY (1861–1906)
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1891) [19:24]
Sergey TANEYEV (1856–1915)
Suite de Concert for violin and orchestra, Op. 28 (1908-09) [40:41]
Ilya Gringolts (violin)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov
rec. 18-19 September 2008, City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow. DDD
HYPERION CDA67642 [60:18]
Experience Classicsonline

This is the seventh volume in Hyperion’s series of The Romantic Violin Concerto. It contains concertos from Russian composers each of whom had close associations with Tchaikovsky and violinist Leopold Auer.
Arensky Violin Concerto in A minor
Anton Arensky was born in 1861 at Novgorod in Russia. He entered the St. Petersburg Conservatoire in 1879 and studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1882, aged only twenty one, Arensky became a professor at the Moscow Conservatoire most notably teaching Scriabin, Rachmaninov and Grechaninov. It was at the Moscow Conservatoire that Arensky became closely associated with and greatly influenced by Tchaikovsky and also with Taneyev. Rimsky-Korsakov remarked, “In his youth Arensky did not escape some influence from me; later the influence came from Tchaikovsky.” Rimsky-Korsakov expressed the view about Arensky that, “He will soon be forgotten”. Tragically Arensky died at the relatively young age of forty-five. Rosa Newmarch biographer, to both Tchaikovsky and Arensky, wrote: “Both in style and temperament Arensky shows considerable affinity to Tchaikovsky.” (1)
Composed in 1891 the Violin Concerto in A minor underwent considerable revision before it was published some years later as Arensky’s op. 54. Dedicated to Leopold Auer the score is cast in a continuous movement with four discernable sections. Although beautifully crafted the music reveals a rather overfriendly and cloying character. With little in the way of contrast, only in the opening movement is there the merest hint of an undercurrent of tension detectable. The sugary lyricism that abounds throughout the score is especially marked in the Adagio non troppo section. For me the highlight is the waltz-infused writing of the intermezzo section marked Tempo di valse.
Taneyev Suite de Concert for violin and orchestra
In 1866 Russian-born Sergey Taneyev entered the Moscow Conservatoire, later becoming a composition student of Tchaikovsky. Taneyev also received piano tuition from Nikolay Rubinstein and graduated with a gold medal for performance and composition. As a virtuoso Taneyev was entrusted by Tchaikovsky with premières of virtually all his scores for piano and orchestra. Furthermore, it seems that Taneyev was the only composer from his circle from whom Tchaikovsky sought critical appraisal of his scores.
Taneyev champion, the eminent Russian pianist; conductor and composer Mikhail Pletnev expressed the opinion that, “He was the key figure in Russian musical history... He was the greatest polyphonist after Bach. And look who his pupils were”: Rachmaninoff and Scriabin. “And Prokofiev, who said he learned more about composing in one hour from Taneyev than from all his other tutors at the Moscow Conservatory.” (2)
Taneyev’s substantial forty-seven minute Suite de Concert for violin and orchestra, Op. 28 was composed in 1908-09 between the turmoil of the unsuccessful Russian revolution of 1905 and the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ (or ‘October Revolution’) of 1917. It is Taneyev’s only work for solo violin and bears a dedication to his friend, the violinist Leopold Auer.
The Suite de Concert is a combination of several traditions of writing. The Prelude and Gavotte sections reflect the style of the Baroque suite with the closing Tarantella conceivably indicating the Gigue. The substantial and late-Romantic Fairy-tale section reminds one of Schumann or Brahms. One wonders if the theme and set of variations was influenced by Brahms’s Haydn Variations or Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana. I speculate that the reason that this superb score for violin and orchestra is so severely neglected is owing to its unconventional design. It is in the updated form of a seventeenth century suite in the German style rather than the more conventional three movement pattern of the violin concerto as used by Mozart, Beethoven, Spohr, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.
I was struck by Taneyev’s glorious and uplifting writing of the Prelude. The exciting and extrovert opening section calls for considerable virtuosity and is performed impressively by soloist Gringolts. The overall sound-picture is one of warm and brooding sultriness. With the scope of an eighteen century Gavotte the music develops an attractive late-Romantic feel. The fairy-tale section, an Andantino, commences in a quite sinister, almost menacing mood. This is music evocative of a woodland scene at dusk with all sorts of extraordinary creatures revealing themselves. Taneyev’s main theme is appealing and undemanding on the ear. The first variation is delightful, contrasting with the bold and assertive second variation, and the third variation is an elegant waltz.
Marked Fuga doppia the fourth variation of the Suite de Concert contains a richly textured consistency. The lighter fifth variation feels bright and scampering. Variation six is a severe mazurka. I loved the heartfelt compassion Ilya Gringolts brought to the final variation which closely resembles the original theme. The Finale of the score, a tarantella, provides foot-tapping excitement. The frenetic cavortings of the climax make for a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to this most impressive Suite de Concert.
Recently a competing version of the Taneyev Suite de Concert was released performed by Lydia Mordkovitch with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. From 2008 in Switzerland, Mordkovitch performs with an impressive blend of expression and precision combined with a clear and well balanced sound on Chandos CHAN10491. It’s coupled with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fantasy on Russian Themes for violin and orchestra, Op. 33.
Gringolts draws marvellous tone from his Ruggeri violin. Passionate and poetic he conveys the meditative inner qualities of the music. Conductor Ilan Volkov provides accompaniment that is strong in personality and the BBC Scottish play quite delightfully throughout. The Hyperion engineers present impressive sound and the booklet notes are helpful.
Michael Cookson
1 . Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 1, - Biographical article on ‘Arensky’ by Rosa Newmarch - Pg. 103 - Edited by J. A. Fuller-Maitland. Pub: Macmillan & Co. London (1922)

2. ‘Mikhail Pletnev Says Classical Music Is Dying (But He Won't Quit Playing It)’ - Article by Michael Church - The Independent newspaper, (London, 28 February 2005)


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