This is US-based Carpe Diem
Quartet's third instalment of their recording of the complete string
quartets of Sergey Taneyev (see review of volume
The numbering of Taneyev's quartets is somewhat problematic, as the
track-listing for this CD suggests. Only two movements of what would
have been his first quartet were finished, then three complete works
followed, before an 'official' no.1 was published as the composer's
op.4. Four more were then published in sequence with an opus number.
No.6, completed in 1905, was the last to receive one (op.19), after
which Taneyev concentrated on other traditional chamber forms, until in
1911 he began a final string quartet - only to break off after two
movements. In concrete terms, then, the quartet numbered '5' is
actually Taneyev's eighth, whilst the one labelled here as 'no.7' is
his first completed quartet.
Taneyev was a true intellectual, with Tolstoy and Rimsky-Korsakov among
his closest friends, and also an ascetic - a rare Russian teetotaller!
In his article on the composer in New Grove
Brown has him down as a dry academic, describing him as "the antithesis
of Glinka, for whereas the latter was possessed of a powerful and vivid
imagination but was deficient in technique, Taneyev had little
imaginative endowment but commanded a compositional skill unsurpassed
by any Russian composer of his period." Brown is wrong in so many ways,
but as far as Taneyev is concerned it is better to accept that he was
no Beethoven but then to feast on the marvellous craftsmanship,
intimate lyricism and show-stopping counterpoint of his string
quartets. In that respect, there is no better place to start than with
the youthfully effervescent 'Seventh' and the elegant,
The Carpe Diem Quartet are well known, in America at least, for their
genre-crossing tendencies - their "musical passion has led them down
the paths of gypsy, tango, folk, pop, rock, and jazz-inspired music".
However, a strong case can be made for the thesis that quartet
greatness is not possible if time and energy are dissipated on facile
arrangements of music from lower levels. What PR calls 'breaking the
mould' or 'pushing the limits' is really nothing more than sitting
comfortably in a musical onesie
to sell more
tickets and CDs.
Nevertheless, whilst never sounding truly impassioned, and certainly
not Russian, the Carpe Diems display a good deal of poise and
commitment to Taneyev's deserving cause. For this cycle they go mano
with the Taneyev Quartet, whose late-1970s recordings
of their eponym's quartets can be had on five volumes on the Russian
Northern Flowers label. Though in splendidly remastered sound, the
Taneyev's cycle is not as authoritative as might be expected - see review
of vol.5 for details. Nor are the Northern Flowers discs competitive on
price. Overall, then, the Carpe Diem Quartet's set is the one to have.
Audio quality is very good in its way - albeit dry and not ideal for
claustrophobes - and Anastasia Belina-Johnson's booklet notes are
interesting and well written.
By way of curious footnote, the Quartet have, since this recording,
acquired a new second violin and cellist - the same positions having
changed between volumes 2 and 3. Second violin also changed between the
first and second volumes. By volume 4, at least nine different
musicians will be available for the collector to enjoy!
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk