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Sergei TANEYEV (1856-1915)
Suite de Concert, Op.28 [45:14]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Fantasia on Two Russian Themes, Op.33 [15:21]
Annelle K. Gregory (violin)
Kyev Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. 2018, NRCU Recording House, Kiev
NAXOS 8.579052 [59:48]

Anyone who has read anything about Russian composers in the 19th Century will be aware that there were two main conservatories founded mid-century: one in Moscow, founded by Nikolai Rubinstein and the other in St. Petersburg, founded by his brother Anton.

The ethos of the two differed: Moscow concentrated on formal musical development as exemplified by the Germans, and St. Petersburg on the exploitation of the ethnic music of the Russian Empire. Famous students of the former are Medtner, Scriabin and Rachmaninov, and, of the latter, Rachmaninov (again) and Prokofiev.

This fine CD has compositions by students of both schools: Sergei Taneyev, who taught Rachmaninov and was himself a student of Tchaikovsky at Moscow, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov who taught at St. Petersburg. The authorities in Moscow taunted those of St. Petersburg as being amateurs, in that they had an insufficient command of musical form and technical matters. Rimsky himself acknowledged this when he reluctantly accepted the post of Professor of Instrumentation, famously writing that as he taught himself musical theory, he managed to keep one lesson ahead of his students. He also described Taneyev’s early compositions as ‘dry and laboured’.

That description certainly does not apply to the work here, but the differences between the Suite de Concert and the Fantasia on Two Russian Themes certainly point up the differences between the two schools, where much of the Rimsky work could form an addendum to Scheherazade, and the Taneyev marks the musical sophistication of the German lands. Reviewers have tended to greet the Taneyev work with high praise, but I have to say that I find it less than totally inspired melodically – none of its themes strike me as being the sort that help to make a work reasonably popular, and as far as the UK is concerned, the piece is notable for its absence in live programmes. David Oistrakh recorded it in 1957 with the Philharmonia under Nikolai Malko, and as far as I can see, that version is regarded as a sine qua non for a collection of Russian concertante works. I haven’t heard it in years, but I should imagine that its recorded sound will be rather dated by now, although it goes without saying that the playing of both soloist and orchestra will be first rate.

That isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with this excellently recorded Naxos CD - quite the reverse - and the orchestra – a new one to me - is the Kyev (Kiev) Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra, described as one of the Ukraine’s leading orchestra. The average age of its members is just 30 and most of them are winners of various competitions. There is no doubt that they play very well here, providing a suitably well-upholstered background for both works. The American violinist Annelle Gregory has won several prizes and competitions, and her love of Russian music has led her to want to revive forgotten Russian works. She plays with virtuosity when required, and with a sweetly singing, pure line as the music becomes lyrical.

If you want these two pieces at a reasonable price, it’s hard to go past this first-rate release.

Jim Westhead



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