The music of Sergey Taneyev has been long overshadowed by the popularity of his contemporaries Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. With releases such as this it is at last beginning to receive the attention it deserves.
Taneyev’s career is inextricably linked to the Moscow Conservatory where he studied composition with Tchaikovsky and piano with Nikolai Rubinstein. A gifted pianist Taneyev was entrusted with the Russian première of Brahms' First Piano Concerto and the Moscow première of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Tchaikovsky held Taneyev in such esteem that he sought his opinion of his works. Following Tchaikovsky’s resignation as director of the Moscow Conservatory in 1878 Taneyev became a teacher at the establishment and in 1885 was later elevated to Conservatory director. Today Taneyev is probably best known as the teacher of Lyapunov, Glière, Scriabin, Medtner and Rachmaninov.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘Russian Brahms’ Taneyev wrote four symphonies (Chandos: 1 & 3
~~ 2 & 4
~~ Naxos: 1 & 3
~~ 2 & 4
), although, I have never encountered them in the concert hall or even seen them programmed. He wrote a fine body of chamber music numbering some twenty works. Amongst the best known are the three large-scale pieces with piano on this CPO release. These were completed over the period 1908-11. Certainly the most familiar and in my view the finest accounts of the Piano Quintet and Piano Trio were recorded in 2003 at Vevey, Switzerland by a starry cast of soloists comprising Mikhail Pletnev (piano), Vadim Repin (violin I), Ilya Gringolts (violin II), Nobuko Imai (viola), Lynn Harrell (cello) on Deutsche Grammophon (4775419): such beautifully expressive and stylish playing, tight ensemble and exemplary intonation complemented by gratifying sound quality.
Composed in 1910/11 I consider the Piano Quintet in G minor, Taneyev’s finest chamber work. Lasting here almost forty-five minutes, the four movement score registers a considerable impression with the composer making full use of the extra possibilities afforded by the instrumentation of four strings and piano. In the opening movement, after a slow introduction, Brahmsian in quality, there is a blustery and determined feel to the writing contrasting with episodes of calm. In the brisk and high spirited Scherzo the piano part tends to dominate and I was aware of a slight martial quality. A central passage of calm contemplation adds to the variety of the wonderful writing. A bold statement with a deliberate rhythm opens the Largo. Here a yearning quality in the high strings is conspicuous before extremely tender and tasteful writing for the piano takes centre-stage. Confident and forthright, the purposefully played Finale marked Allegro vivace
has an intensely stormy quality. The writing revisits and also alludes to some of the material used earlier in the work. This is a most enjoyable account that makes a considerable impact.
From 1902-06 the Piano Quartet in E major, is the earliest work here. This was the first time I had heard the three movement work which leaves a most favourable impression. Typical of Taneyev, there is a wholehearted windswept feel to the writing in the opening Allegro brillante
with a strong undertow of emotional searching. Here the writing for the piano and violin is especially charming. The Adagio opens with a gloriously memorable melody first heard on the violin. There are two brisker sections, gusty in feel, which soon fade away. Marked Allegro molto
, the Finale again occupies Taneyev’s typically squally sound-world with contrasting sections of peaceful music providing a welcome respite. A lovely melody similar to that heard in the Adagio
returns to close the work on an appealing note.
Concluding the set is the Piano Trio in D major that Taneyev wrote in 1906-08. This four movement work opens with a passionate Allegro
yet again having that fresh and breezy feel so characteristic of the composer. We hear an energetic performance of the boisterous Scherzo constructed with an unremarkable theme but an adroit set of variations. Full of yearning the sensitively played Andante
contains an intense passion. With its invigorating, blustery feel the Finale: Allegro con brio
is not too dissimilar in mood to the opening movement, although tends to vary more in intensity.
The engineers for CPO have excelled providing sonics that are clear and well balanced between piano and strings. The playing from pianist Zassimova and partners is highly committed and intensely compelling; it could easily be a live rather than a studio recording. Occasionally some untidiness is evident especially noticeable in the piano quintet. Unquestionably their intonation is not as secure as the rock-steady playing provided by Pletnev and his players on Deutsche Grammophon. I did wonder if Zassimova and her string players could have allowed slightly more preparation time for these rarely played works. Nevertheless the positives significantly outweigh any reservations making this a fine and uplifting release that should impart numerous rewards.
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