Sergey TANEYEV (1856-1915)
String Quartet no.2 in C, op.5 (1894-5) [37:13]
String Quartet no.4 in A minor, op.11 (1898-9) [35:52]
Carpe Diem String Quartet (Chas Wetherbee (violin); John Ewing (violin); Korine Fujiwara (viola); Kristin Ostling (cello))
rec. Mees Hall, Capital University Columbus, Ohio. November 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.572421 [73:10]

This is volume 2 of Naxos's edition of Russian composer Sergey Taneyev's complete (9) string quartets - volume 1, released in 2007, was reviewed here and here.

String quartets form an important part of Taneyev's output, though their numbering is problematic. Only two movements of the first quartet were finished, then three complete works followed, before the 'official' no.1 was published as Taneyev's op.4. After that, more came, thick and fast, including the two on this disc. No.6 was the last to receive an opus number (19), completed in 1905, after which Taneyev concentrated on other traditional chamber forms, until in 1911 he wrote a final string quartet, only to break off again after two movements.

In his article on the composer in the New Grove Dictionary, David Brown writes that Taneyev "was the antithesis of Glinka, for whereas the latter was possessed of a powerful and vivid imagination but was deficient in technique, Taneyev had little imaginative endowment but commanded a compositional skill unsurpassed by any Russian composer of his period." Anyone listening to these two quartets is sure to agree with the latter notion immediately, but will equally be disinclined to accept the first sentiment, because this is music that positively bristles not just with technical expertise - they have the same undeniable air of perfect craftsmanship about them as the middle quartets of Beethoven - but with real imagination. Taneyev was a true intellectual - he counted Tolstoy and Rimsky-Korsakov among his closest friends, and was an ascetic - a rare Russian teetotaller!; but in these quartets there is much more than dry academicism or musical sobriety.

Following three movements of music that is by turn impassioned, intimate and lyrical, the allegro vigoroso finale of the Second Quartet abounds in unexpected virtuosity, with chromaticism layered masterfully upon modulation upon counterpoint upon harmonic twist and turn, all heading towards a delicious ending. The Fourth Quartet is a more soul-searching, dramatic work - more akin now to Beethoven's late works, which are not in any way debased by comparison. To suggest that the composer of this quartet has "little imaginative endowment" is absurd - this is a profound work, from the chromatic intensity of the first movement, through the jerky elegance of the divertimento, the wistful heartache of the adagio, to the dark-roasted, surprisingly upbeat finale.

The genre-crossing tendencies of the Carpe Diem Quartet might not be to everyone's liking, but there is little to fault in their musical taste or general musicianship on this disc. The sound quality is excellent, if slightly thick, the liner-notes fairly brief but informative.

Byzantion

Impassioned, intimate and lyrical there is little to fault in musical taste or general musicianship on this disc.