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Sergei TANEYEV (1856–1915)
Complete String Trios
String Trio in E flat major Op 31 (1910–11) [25:22]
String Trio in B minor (1913) [17:38]
String Trio in D major (1879–80) [26:34]
Belcanto Strings (Wolfgang Schröder (violin), Daniel Raiskin (viola), Ramon Jaffé (cello))
rec. 20-22 December 1999, Schloßgalerie Nordkirchen

The Belcanto String’s recording of the complete String Trios of Sergei Taneyev makes a welcome return to the CD catalogue. MDG first released them in 2000, when they were reviewed on MusicWeb International by Colin Clarke. They have just been re-released, the booklet cover undergoing a slight makeover, and the composer’s name now reproduced in its German form. I can’t admit to knowing too much of his music, but three years ago I reviewed a new recording of his Piano Quintet by the Goldner String Quartet and Piers Lane on Hyperion. I’m also very fond of the Suite de Concert in the version with violinist David Oistrakh (review).

Taneyev was a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory and a pupil and friend of Tchaikovsky. He was not only a talented composer but a brilliant pianist and renowned pedagogue. He gave the Moscow première of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto in December 1875. His pupils included Rachmaninov, Scriabin and Medtner. His compositional oeuvre covered a wide genre – opera, cantatas, symphonies, overtures and chamber music. His speciality was counterpoint, and his three string trios are testimony to his adept skill in this area. They span a large part of his career. The D major dates from 1879, and it was thirty years before he returned to the form with the E flat, Op. 31. The late B minor Trio begun in 1913 was never completed, as he died two years later. This task was left to his publisher.

The earliest of the works here is the Trio in D major, penned by the composer in his early twenties. Tchaikovsky gave it his blessing when sent the score for his approval, commenting, ‘I looked through and was amazed by the author’s skill’. It stagnated in the composer’s archive after the first performance, until publication in 1956. It has an attractive opening movement, affable, upbeat and joyous. This geniality is carried over into the Scherzo. The lyrical slow movement is brief by Taneyev’s standards, and the finale certainly packs a punch with its forceful Russian accents and strong fugal elements.

The String Trio in E flat major Op 31 was originally scored for violin, viola and tenor-viola. The Trio had only one performance with this short-lived instrument, nowadays the cello is substituted, necessitating some rearrangement. There’s much to admire in the work, which reveals the composer’s deft handling of this instrumentation. The two inner movements are particularly striking. The Belcanto plays the sprightly Scherzino with lightness and buoyancy, and the players' joyous enthusiasm is infectious. The exquisite Adagio espressivo, which follows, is imbued with wistful nostalgia.

The late two-movement Trio in B minor takes on a more sombre and serious vein than the preceding works. The editors, who made the completion in the 1940s from the sketches the composer left, did a good job. The results make for a compelling listen, aided by the player’s committed performance. The second movement is a theme and seven variations.

The Belcanto Strings have the full measure of these attractive scores, and deliver persuasive accounts, notable for their warmth and flawless ensemble. MDG’s sonics are second-to-none.

Stephen Greenbank



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