Taneyev was one of the foremost pianists of his time. He gave
the premieres of all of Tchaikovsky’s works for piano and
orchestra - except the first Piano Concerto. Yet he himself wrote
very little for the piano and about half of what he did write
belongs to his student days or soon after. Yet even his earliest
piano music possesses a continuous flow that keeps it interesting.
Taneyev’s early piano music was written between 1873 and
1875 and consists of five scherzos and a substantial Theme and
Variations. This latter work, though written as a student exercise,
is very interesting because each variation is in a different
form - scherzo, nocturne and so on - while also functioning as
a notable set of variations on the main theme. The influence
of Taneyev’s heroes, Tchaikovsky and Schumann, is definitely
felt, but this is a work that already shows an incisive mind.
Though not written as a group, the five scherzos all date from
the same period, showing a variety of approach. The D minor is
almost violent, even in the trio, while the short G minor is
also somewhat agitated. More classical is the E flat minor, with
a serene and poetic trio and an ending that reminds one of Scarlatti.
The C major is very interesting structurally, with a pounding
bass that contrasts with a gentle treble based on a folkish element.
The trio continues the gentle mood without the bass and the return
of the scherzo combines all these elements. This is certainly
the most interesting of the five, although the F major with its
elfin beginning and Tchaikovskian trio is not to be overlooked.
Of the post-Conservatory works, Repose
and the Quadrille
from a set of four written in 1879-80. The former is a virtual
mini-symphonic poem, covering a wide range of emotions, while
the Quadrille is a sort of meditation on this dance-form, leading
to an almost violent finish. The Andantino semplice
published by the Soviets long after the composer’s death
and the date of composition is still a little unsure. The piece
is more folk-like than some of Taneyev and incorporates interesting
excursions from the home key. The Prelude dates from almost twenty
years later and was originally one of three written for Alexander
Siloti. It features multiple tempo changes but is not as interesting
as some of the other works.
The Prelude and Fugue is the only one of the composer’s
piano works to enter the regular repertoire. It has been recorded
a number of times, even by Glenn Gould. It was written in memory
of Taneyev’s beloved nurse, who continued to take care
of him right through to her death - see Bruno Walter’s
memoirs for an interesting description. It goes without saying
that it betrays all his usual contrapuntal mastery. But in addition
it contains great depth of emotion. The Prelude also has almost
an eerie element, while the Fugue eventually seems to forget
it’s a fugue and just leaps off the page in a mad rush.
If Taneyev wrote little piano music, his body of chamber music
is probably the most substantial part of his output, comprising
nineteen significant works. The Violin Sonata, from 1911, is
almost the last of these. The first movement starts off in a
slightly lighter fashion than is usual with the composer, but
the Brahmsian second subject is more serious, while also being
very sweet and endearing. The main melody of the adagio is a
long winding theme that gives way to a very nostalgic section,
which then becomes agitated before returning to the opening material.
The composer shows great developmental ability in this movement.
The third movement minuet is rather serious for a minuet and
leads into a fine fountain-like trio. The ending is rather enigmatic.
The finale has a well-developed folkish theme and a second subject
that is harmonically divided between the piano and violin in
an original way. Bach also makes an appearance and there is a
final synthesis of all these elements. The Romance is a transcription
of one the composer’s best-known songs, but I think it
sounds better in its original version.
Ivan Peshkov produces a beautiful tone in his rendition of the
Sonata, especially in the second and third movements. His phrasing
is also fine, as is his overall conception of the piece and he
has a lot of youthful brio. Nina Solovieva as accompanist supplies
the appropriate harmonic support, as well as the varying atmosphere
required. In her playing of the piano music, Ms. Solovieva shows
excellent control and a real ability to shift effortlessly from
one emotion to another. She also understands the aforementioned
linear aspects of the composer’s music. Her one fault is
that she occasionally plays too quickly, almost too excitedly,
and loses some of the music‘s unique features.
Mr. Peshkov faces some strong competition in his performance
of the sonata in the recently re-released version by Vladimir
Ovcharek (of the Taneyev Quartet) and Tamara Fidler on the Northern
Flowers label. There is also a Russian Violin School disc with
Leonid Feigin (see above). The Peshkov has the lower price and
the most modern recording. As for Ms. Solovieva, this is the
most comprehensive collection of the Taneyev piano music available,
although a few of the same pieces are available on Joseph Banowetz’s
recording of the Piano Concerto on Toccata [see
]. Here almost-completeness trumps all other considerations.
see also review by Jonathan