Sergei Ivanovich TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1911) [21:20]
Theme and Variations in C (1874) [11:31]
Repose (Elegy) (1880) [3:06]
Scherzo in D-major (1874-75) [2:37] *
Scherzo in G-minor (1874-75) [1:09] *
Scherzo in E-flat minor (1873-74) [3:12] *
Scherzo in C-major (1874-75) [3:17] *
Scherzo in F-major (1874-75) [1:35] *
Prelude in F-major (1894-95) [2:47]
Quadrille (1879) [7:55] *
Andantino semplice (1876-78?) [4:46]
Prelude and Fugue in G-sharp minor Op. 29 (1910) [6:35]
Romance Op. 26, No. 6: Stalaktiki (arr. violin and piano by Feigin) (1908) [2:50]
Ivan Peshkov (violin); Olga Solovieva (piano)
rec. Mosfilm Ton-Studios, Moscow, 28 April 2005 (Sonata, Romance) and at Moscow
Theatre and Concert Centre, 23-24 December 2008. DDD
Text included. *World Premiere Recordings
NAXOS 8.557804 [74:21]

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 come 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 was 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 review]. Here almost-completeness trumps all other considerations.

William Kreindler

see also review by Jonathan Woolf