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Sergey Ivanovich TANEYEV (1856 – 1915)
Complete String Quartets - vol. 4
String Quartet No. 9 in A major (1883) [31:03]
String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major Op. 19 (1905) [34:29]
Carpe Diem String Quartet
rec. Distler Hall, Granoff Music Center, Tufts University Department of Music, Medford, Massachusetts, USA, 15-16 December 2013 (9); Jemison Auditorium, Sanborn Hall, Ohio Wesleyan University, USA, 29-30 May 2014 (6)
NAXOS 8.573470 [65:42]

Taneyev, who was born into a cultural family from the Russian nobility, showed musical talent very early and took piano lessons from the age of five. He entered the Moscow Conservatory when he was nine, studied piano with Nikolai Rubinstein and composition with Tchaikovsky. After graduating and winning a gold medal for both composition and performing, he embarked on a career as pianist and also toured with violinist Leopold Auer. He was the soloist at the first Moscow performance of Tchaikovsky┤s first piano concerto and later performed several other works by him. He also completed the third concerto from Tchaikovsky’s sketches. He taught both piano and composition at the conservatory and was director for some years. Taneyev’s talent as a composer was much admired by Tchaikovsky who also valued the younger man’s judgements. His own compositions were fairly slow in getting recognition and even today his works are rarely heard. Besides nine completed string quartets and a lot of other chamber music works, he wrote four symphonies.

The numbering of his quartets is rather misleading, since several of his earliest works in the genre were not published until many years after his death, in 1952 in fact. By then numbers 1 to 6 were already established and the three completed works that appeared were allotted higher numbers although being written very early. Thus No. 9 on this disc was written in 1883, seven years before Quartet No. 1. It is an impressive composition, formally strong and filled with catchy melodies. The first movement is full of inventive writing. The andante second movement is truly beautiful while the scherzo is rhythmically vital with a contrasting trio of enchanting music. The final movement is fresh and vital, even though Tchaikovsky seems to have had objections.

Quartet No. 6 is his last completed quartet, published in 1905. It is less melodious but structurally even more inventive and with a jig as the third movement. Having heard only a fragment from one of Taneyev┤s quartets on a 25-year-old sampler disc with recordings from the old Melodiya label (a cycle reissued on Northern Flowers: Vol. 1 ~ Vol. 3 ~ Vol. 4 ~ Vol. 5), I was immediately struck by the freshness of the music-making. After listening to these two quartets several times I feel that they should be ranked at least as highly as Tchaikovsky’s and Borodin’s works in this genre. There is great personality here and both quartets are constantly inspired.

The American Carpe Diem String Quartet have, since they were formed in 2005, devoted a lot of their time to contemporary music. Here though, when they throw their net more than one hundred years back in time, they come up with this echt-romantic music fresh as paint. They feel wholly involved in the idiom. The playing is assured, the recording is excellent and the annotations highly informative.

Readers with an interest in romantic chamber music should definitely give this a try. I am sure it will whet the appetite for more.

G÷ran Forsling

Previous review: Tully Potter

Reviews of earlier instalments in this Naxos series
Vol. 1 (1 and 3) Michael Cookson; Jonathan Woolf; Colin Clarke
Vol. 2 (2 and 4) Byzantion
Vol. 3 (5 and 7) Byzantion

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