Spectrum Concerts Berlin – Taneyev: String Trio in E-Flat Major, Op. 31 & Piano Quartet in E Major, Op. 20 (2022)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/48 kHz | Time – 01:07:25 minutes | 692 MB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Naxos
With this album, Naxos and Spectrum Concerts wish to champion a composer who was universally respected and admired during his life, but whose work has for the most part languished unheard since his death over a century ago. His chamber music compositions in particular were once placed on a par with those of the great Viennese masters, and regarded as ‘models of pure style and of lofty and masterly art’, as Walter Willson Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music from 1929 has it.
Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev was born on 25 November 1856 in Vladimir, the son of an arts-loving civil servant. His musical talent became evident in his childhood, and at the age of nine he was accepted into the Moscow Conservatoire, where he studied the piano with Nikolay Rubinstein and composition with Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky. He made his solo debut in 1874 while still a student with works by Chopin and Liszt, and a year later gave the highly successful Russian premiere of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Taneyev became the first student in the history of the Conservatoire to graduate with a gold medal in both his chosen instrument and in composition. Shortly thereafter, he gave the Moscow premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, originally intended for Rubinstein, going on to premiere all of his other works for piano and orchestra, including the Piano Concerto No. 3 as well as the Andante and Finale, which he prepared editorially for publication after the composer’s death.
Taneyev succeeded Tchaikovsky in 1878 as the Moscow Conservatoire’s professor of harmony and instrumentation. He later also took over Rubinstein’s piano class as well as the composition class, finally becoming the institution’s director in 1885. He held this position for four years, during which time he revised the whole syllabus. Although he subsequently resigned as director to concentrate on composition, he continued to teach his favourite subject, counterpoint, until 1905. ‘He is the finest master of counterpoint in Russia, and I even doubt that he has an equal in the West’ said Tchaikovsky of his protégé, advocate and friend. Among Taneyev’s students were Reinhold Glière, Sergey Mikhailovich Lyapunov, Nikolay Medtner, Sergey Rachmaninov and Alexander Scriabin.
In the wake of the failed revolution of 1905, he resigned his post in protest against the disciplinary measures imposed by the new director of the Conservatoire on the students who had been involved in the uprising. In the last decade of his life, he resumed his career as a concert pianist, writing several compositions for his own use. He also published a widely used textbook about counterpoint and began another one about canon. At Scriabin’s funeral in April 1915, Taneyev contracted pneumonia and eventually died of a heart attack on 19 June of the same year.
Taneyev was widely respected and admired as a composer while remaining a loner in the Russian musical landscape. Despite his interest in Russian folk music, he had little time for the ways of the St Petersburg nationalist school centred around the ‘Mighty Handful’ – and yet was friends with Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. Most important for him in his compositional work were balanced structures, and a thorough processing of the musical material, for which he was occasionally called the ‘Russian Brahms’ – much to his annoyance, because like his mentor Tchaikovsky he did not particularly care for Brahms’s music! Taneyev used to design the overall plan of a composition in advance, carefully weighing the proportions of its individual parts. He then systematically investigated the contrapuntal possibilities of the motifs and how they could be combined with each other. The impression of unity that one gets from most of his compositions originates not least in the fact that their themes derive from each other through inversion, retrograde, augmentation or diminution. This high degree of construction has earned Taneyev the reputation of being merely a purveyor of dry counterpoint, an accusation that is eloquently refuted by his most successful compositions.
The string quartet was a beloved genre of many Russian and Soviet composers, and Taneyev wrote nine of them in the course of his composing life (a complete recording by the Carpe Diem String Quartet is available on Naxos spanning five volumes). However, in his commitment to the string trio – he wrote four of them, in various instrumental line-ups – our composer was pretty much alone. The String Trio in E flat major, Op. 31 represents his most significant contribution to this genre. Written from 1910 to 1911, this piece was originally intended for the unusual combination of violin, viola and tenor viola. The latter is an experimental instrument shaped like a large viola, and tuned a fourth lower than the regular viola. Taneyev’s trio was premiered and published in this original version; however, since the tenor viola failed to establish itself in the long run, the piece is usually performed in an arrangement for the conventional string trio of violin, viola and cello – as it is on this recording.
The cheerful first movement exhibits neo-Classical characteristics that are spiced up by rich contrapuntal textures and late-Romantic harmonic turns. Taneyev’s treatment of the three instruments gives an impression of large sonorities through the skillful use of double-stopping and chords. The following Scherzino is a tuneful, bubbling and unmistakably ‘Russian’ movement full of crisp rhythms, in which contrasting use of arco and pizzicato passages is made. The hymn-like slow movement is reminiscent of Beethoven’s late string quartets. The concluding rondo rounds off the work with the reintroduction of musical material from the first movement, albeit in greatly modified form.
Conceived in the grandest of styles, the Piano Quartet in E major, Op. 20 is one of Taneyev’s few works that have kept a place in the Russian repertoire of chamber music. The composer, who wrote the virtuoso piano part for himself, premiered the work in Moscow in 1906 with members of the Bohemian Quartet. The first movement is brimming with exuberantly passionate motifs. The proud, rousing main theme is followed by a playful second subject; subsequently, both themes are given a thorough workout of their contrapuntal potential during the development, before the movement reaches a sonorous conclusion. With its insidiously seductive main theme, the second movement emphatically demonstrates the composer’s melodic gift. In turn, the final movement constitutes an impressive demonstration of Taneyev’s contrapuntal skills as well as his grasp of formal balance. Furthermore, the closing moments – not by chance marked moderato serafico – create a transfigured mood that is left to work its magic unhindered by compositional artifice.
1-1. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – I. Allegro con brio (09:50)
1-2. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – II. Scherzino. Allegretto vivace (04:19)
1-3. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – III. Adagio espressivo (07:38)
1-4. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – IV. Finale. Presto (06:32)
1-5. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – I. Allegro brillante (13:32)
1-6. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – II. Adagio più tosto largo (10:12)
1-7. Spectrum Concerts Berlin – III. Finale. Allegro molto (15:18)