This disc offers works for violin and orchestra from Russian contemporaries
and friends Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev. Described here as ‘Violin
Concertos’ the first score is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fantasy on
Russian Themes based on old Russian folk-tunes. Taneyev is
represented by his Suite de Concert a work that inhabits
the world of old European dance forms from the baroque period.
These are both unfamiliar scores, yet melodic and rewarding, without
making any claims to greatness. For further listening I have provided
in the footnotes a list of several other lesser known scores by
immediately noted the link that both Rimsky and Taneyev had
been composition professors at their respective conservatories:
the former at the St. Petersburg and Taneyev at Moscow. Stylistically
very different in inclination the Moscow Conservatory was more
associated with the music of the Austro-German tradition as
opposed to the Russian nationalist school at St. Petersburg.
first born of the two composers is Rimsky who is by far the
better known; primarily for his famous symphonic suite Scheherazade,
Op. 36 (1888) and also the popular Capriccio espagnol,
Op. 34 (1887).
started his career as a naval officer and went on to become
Professor of Composition at St. Petersburg. He taught many pupils
who went on to achieve great success as composers, notably:
Anatoly Lyadov; Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov; Anton Arensky; Sergei
Prokofiev; Alexander Gretchaninov; Igor Stravinsky, Ottorino
Respighi and Alexander Glazunov.
was the youngest of the circle of self trained amateur composers
known as ‘The Five’ also known as ‘The Mighty Handful’
or ‘Balakirev's circle’. They met in the years 1856-1870
and promoted a Russian Nationalistic style. Commenced in 1861
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphony No. 1 in E flat minor, Op.
1 was completed and premiered at St. Petersburg in 1865. The
composer surprised the audience by taking his ovation wearing
his naval uniform. Although it was not the first symphony to
be composed by a Russian the score is sometimes known as the
“First Russian Symphony”; owing to its use of Russian
folk song and oriental melodies. Rimsky-Korsakov revised and
re-orchestrated the Symphony No. 1 in 1884.
composed his three movement Fantasy on Russian Themes in
1887. It was written for Krasnokutsky the violin teacher at
the Imperial Chapel where Rimsky was assistant to Balakirev,
the Musical Director. Biographer Gerald Abraham wrote of the
the themes are attractive, their treatment is of slight interest,
the orchestral part being very evidently written for the pupil’s
orchestra of the Chapel.” (Rimsky-Korsakov:
A Short Biography by Gerald Abraham, Duckworth, London, 1945,
opening movement is wild and fresh, punctuated with cadenza-like
passages. Mordkovitch plays with great tenderness against a
minimal orchestral accompaniment. The Lento section includes
a long, languid and heartfelt theme. From point 2:03 Rimsky-Korsakov
employs the highest violin registers. Like a breath of fresh
air the Finale bursts onto the scene blowing away any
cobwebs with a brisk gypsy-dance. A cadenza of considerable
difficulty is played with assurance by Mordkovitch and conveys
an unusually warm and gentle atmosphere.
was in 1866 that Sergey Taneyev entered the Moscow Conservatory.
He became a composition student of Tchaikovsky and also received
piano tuition from Nikolay Rubinstein. He graduated with a gold
medal for performance and composition. As a virtuoso Taneyev
was entrusted by Tchaikovsky with giving the premières of virtually
all his scores for piano and orchestra. Taneyev was the only
composer within his circle from whom Tchaikovsky sought critical
appraisals on his works. Later in his career in 1881 Taneyev
returned to the Moscow Conservatory to undertake teaching duties
and in 1885 was appointed as Conservatory Director. Taneyev’s
pupils include several famous names namely: Reinhold Glière;
Sergei Rachmaninov and Alexander Scriabin.
Taneyev’s music has been consigned to the shadows for many years.
His influence on the development of Russian music, especially
his success as a composition teacher, is often overlooked. Thankfully
Taneyev’s melodic and approachable music is rapidly gaining
a large group of enthusiasts. In an interview for The Independent
newspaper in 2005 the eminent Russian pianist; conductor and
composer Mikhail Pletnev expressed the opinion that Taneyev
the key figure in Russian musical history … He was the greatest
polyphonist after Bach. And look who his pupils were:
Rachmaninov and Scriabin, and Prokofiev who said he learned
more about composing in one hour from Taneyev than from all
his other tutors at the Moscow Conservatory.”
Taneyev is best remembered as the composer of four symphonies.
His final work, the second cantata At the Reading of a Psalm
(1914-15) completed just two years before the Russian Revolution,
is receiving attention thanks to maestro Pletnev’s recording
on Pentatone. Very active in the field of chamber music Taneyev
composed a considerable number of scores in the genre. According
to Grove Music Online there are nine string quartets (1874-1911),
plus two incomplete quartets; two string quintets (1901 and
1904); a piano quartet (1906) and a piano quintet (1911).
substantial forty-seven minute Suite de Concert was
composed in 1908-9 in between the turmoil of the ‘Failed Russian
Revolution of 1905’ and the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ or ‘October
Revolution’ of 1917.
to his friend the renowned violinist Leopold Auer the score
is a combination of several traditions of writing. The Prelude
and Gavotte sections reflect the style of the Baroque
suite with the closing Tarantella conceivably indicating
the Gigue. The substantial and late-Romantic Fairy-tale
section undoubtedly reminds one of Schumann or Brahms. One
wonders if the theme and set of variations were influenced by
Brahms’s Haydn Variations (1873) or Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana,
orchestral suite, Op. 61 (1887).
the Prelude I enjoyed the exciting and extrovert opening
section. It calls for and receives considerable virtuosity from
soloist Lydia Mordkovitch. The overall sound-picture is one
of brooding sultriness. From the scope of an eighteen century
Gavotte the music develops a distinct late-Romantic feel.
The Fairy-tale section, an Andantino, commences in a
quite sinister, almost menacing mood. This is music evocative
of a woodland scene at dusk with all sorts of extraordinary
creatures revealing themselves. The main theme that Rimsky-Korsakov
employs is attractive yet undemanding. The first variation is
delightful, contrasting with the bold and assertive second variation
and the elegant waltz third variation. Marked Fuga doppia
the fourth variation consists of richly-textured writing.
The lighter fifth variation feels bright and breezy. Variation
six is a severe mazurka and I loved the heartfelt compassion
of the final variation that closely resembles the original theme.
The Finale of the score, a tarantella, provides
predominantly foot-tapping excitement. The climax makes a thrilling
and satisfying conclusion to this impressive work.
found this to be a splendidly presented disc with Calum MacDonald’s
essay in the booklet a model of authorship. I did notice that
in the liner-notes and booklet Taneyev’s birth date is incorrectly
given as 1889 not 1856.
Recommended Recordings of Less Familiar Scores:
those looking for lesser known scores of high quality and although
not noted for his compositions in the field of chamber music
I can enthusiastically recommend the following two scores:
Quintet for piano, flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon in B
flat, Op. posth. (1876). I love the fresh and committed
playing by pianist Felicja Blumental and members of the New
Philharmonia Wind Ensemble, London. The work was recorded at
Chelsea, London in 1979 on Brana Records BR0019 c/w Anton Rubinstein
Quintet for piano, flute, clarinet, horn and bassoon, in F major,
Op. 55 (1855).
rare String Sextet in A major, Op. posth. (1876)
is an undemanding yet highly attractive early score worthy of
wider recognition. Played with freshness and genuine enthusiasm
by the Kocian Quartet with Josepf Kluson (viola) and Michal
Kanka (cello) on Praga Records PRD350039 c/w Quintet for
Piano and Winds, Op. posth. (1876).
can highly recommend a splendid version of the Piano Quintet,
Op. 30 (1911) and Piano Trio, Op. 22 from the
stellar cast of: Vadim Repin (violin); Ilya Gringolts (violin);
Nobuko Imai (viola); Lynn Harrell (cello) and Mikhail Pletnev
(piano) recorded in Vevey, Switzerland in 2003 on Deutsche Grammophon
Taneyev release to receive considerable acclaim is the live
2003 St. Petersburg, Russia recording of At the Reading of
a Psalm. Conducted by Mikhail Pletnev and performed
by the Russian National Orchestra; the St. Petersburg State
Academy Capella Choir; the Boys Choir of the Glinka Choral College
and soloists on PentaTone Classics Super Audio CD PTC5186038.
valuable addition to Taneyev’s expanding discography is a recording
of the String Quartet No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 4 (1890)
and String Quartet No. 3 in D minor, Op. 7 (1886, rev.1896).
Recorded in Columbus, Ohio in 2006 I especially enjoyed the assured
playing and impressive unity from the Carpe Diem String Quartet
on Naxos 8.570437. This first volume for Naxos as part of a projected
cycle from the Carpe Diems Quartet of Taneyev’s complete quartets.