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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Sergey TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Piano Chamber Music
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 30 (1910-11) [44:09]
Piano Quartet in E major, Op. 20 (1906) [37:13]
Piano Trio in D major, Op. 22 (1906-08) [38:30]
Anna Zassimova (piano); Albrecht Breuninger (violin); Stefan Krznaric (violin) (Op 30); Julien Heichelbech (viola) (Opp. 20 and 30); Bernhard Lörcher (cello)
rec. 28-31 March 2011, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, SWR Baden-Baden. DDD
CPO 777 793-2 [44:09 + 75:46]

I first encountered what I now know to be the Taneyev Piano Quintet a few weeks ago when Dr. Len Mullenger asked me to listen ‘blind’ to a disc. Beyond thinking that I was listening to music composed between about 1880 and 1915 and having a suspicion that the music was Russian I hadn’t any idea what work I was hearing. However, despite my abject failure to identify the composer I was sure that I was listening to an impressive piece. That belief has been reinforced once Len put me out of my misery, identified the music and invited me to review these discs.

All three of the pieces here recorded are substantial but the biggest and most ambitious is the Piano Quintet. It’s cast in four movements, the first of which is by some distance the largest in scale; it plays for 17:37 here. After a substantial slow introduction, which is tense and expectant, the main body of the movement, marked Allegro patetico, bursts forth (3:29). This is surging and passionate, though at 4:43 the piano gently introduces a much more lyrical second subject. The treatment of the faster material is consistently ardent and impulsive in this performance though the lyrical opportunities are relished too. It’s a terrific movement and it receives a tremendous performance. I’ve had the chance to listen to another version by the Taneyev Quartet with pianist Tamara Fidler. This was recorded as long ago as 1968 and it was the subject of a review by William Kreindler in 2010. The Taneyev Quartet are more expansive in their treatment of this music than their CPO rivals: the introduction alone plays for 4:00. Their fine reading of the main body of the movement is lively but though it’s passionate and strong it doesn't quite have the urgency that Anna Zassimova and her colleagues provide.

The scherzo has a good deal of material that’s in a sprightly martial vein – think of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony - and there’s lots of deft, precise playing here. The trio is slower and cantabile in nature. Introduced magisterially, the slow movement takes the form of a passacaglia. Once the opening bars are past the music is initially graceful though it gradually grows in intensity before easing back to a quiet ending. The reading by the Taneyevs is the more imposing and grave of the two and their performance is more expansive – it plays for 1:40 longer. I find both readings impressive and it’s good to hear two different takes on the music but subjectively my preference is for Zassimova and friends. The finale opens in lively vein. The music is energetic and very positive in tone and is projected strongly here; it’s tumultuous stuff. Then around 5:23 the flow is stemmed by a reminiscence of material form the first movement and from this proceeds a lovely, tranquil episode. From this builds a huge, ecstatic ending which sometimes sounds like pealing bells. Here Zassimova and her four collaborators produce tone that is almost orchestral in magnitude, bringing this rich quintet to a magnificent conclusion.

I was gripped by this music and even more so by the performance. The Taneyev Quartet and Fidler also make a splendid showing and their recording is not at all bad given that it’s over 45 years old now. However, this new CPO account will take some beating. Incidentally, should you wish to invest in both recordings – and I think there are compelling reasons why you should – then the Piano Quintet is the only work that’s common to both sets. The Taneyevs also offer their eponymous composer’s two string quintets.

Zassimova and her colleagues concentrate on Taneyev’s other chamber music for piano and strings. The Piano Quartet is in three movements. The first, Allegro brillante, has its passionate moments but there’s also a lot of more delicate, deft writing and throughout there’s excellent interplay between the four parts. The middle movement is a predominantly expansive, lyrical composition with a good deal of soaring violin writing. At 3:00 there is a much quicker, impetuous episode but the lingering lyrical mood is soon re-established and this time round a brief, ardent climax is achieved. The extended finale includes a fugal episode. I particularly enjoyed the last few minutes which are full of appealing lyrical writing.

The Piano Trio reverts to a four-movement structure. The first contains a good deal of energetic, confident writing with plenty of counterpoint. However, the next ardent, lyrical passage is never far away. The longest movement an Allegro molto, is placed second,. Here driving scherzo material encases a central set of variations. The slow movement contains a good deal of lovely, expressive music. Rather unusually, there’s a violin cadenza which acts as a bridge to the finale, which follows without a break. This is extrovert, energetic and good-humoured.

These are three fine works and if I express a strong preference for the Quintet that’s an entirely subjective selection which should not be taken to diminish the worth of the other two pieces. All three works reminded me at times of Brahms and all of them are well worth hearing. As for the performances, well these five musicians really strike sparks off each other and they play with huge commitment and finesse. To the best of my knowledge the four string players don’t regularly perform as a quartet so this is not a case of an established quartet teaming up with a pianist. However, you would not know that since the performances are taut and seem to me to bespeak a unanimity of approach such as you’d expect to hear from a quartet.

I count the Piano Quintet as a major personal discovery and I urge you to hear this terrific set for yourself.

John Quinn