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Sergey TANEYEV (1856-1915)
String Quartets - Volume 4
String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major Op.19 (1883) [34:29]
String Quartet No. 9 in A major (1838) [31:03]
Carpe Diem Quartet (Charles Wetherbee, Amy Galluzzo (violins), Korine Fujiwara (viola), Carol Ou (cello))
rec. Distler Hall, Granoff Music Center, Tufts University Department of Music, Medford, Massachusetts, 15-16 December 2013 (No. 9); Jemison Auditorium, Sanborn Hall, Ohio Wesleyan University, 29-30 May 2014 (No. 6).
NAXOS 8.573470 [65:42]

Sergey Taneyev was the most learned and skilled of the Golden Age Russian composers. He was a virtuoso pianist and, like his teacher Tchaikovsky and his pupils Rachmaninov and Scriabin, had a rare melodic gift. Why is he not a household name? His chamber music is particularly attractive but there is a hidden trap for the unwary: when it comes to his magnificent series of string quartets, Nos 1 to 6 are the mature ones; Nos 7 to 9 are early works which were not published until 1952.

This is my first hearing of the Carpe Diem Quartet, an American group founded in 2005. It is also my introduction to their Taneyev series. Full marks to them for going to Horace for the name of their ensemble, and for clearly putting in a lot of work on Taneyev’s music. Obviously the major opposition comes from the famous cycle by the great Taneyev Quartet of Leningrad (Vol. 1; Vol. 3; Vol. 5), and by coincidence their CD edition places the same two works on a single disc (Northern Flowers NF/PMA 9936). At this stage I shall merely observe that their CD costs more, is less comprehensively annotated and is probably harder to find.

The Carpe Diem players begin logically with No. 9 of 1883, most impressive of the early works with a sunny, delightfully Romantic aura and an inescapable Russian tinge. The Tchaikovsky Museum holds Taneyev’s manuscript, with handwritten comments by Tchaikovsky. The Allegro moderato (Tchaikovsky: ‘All of this movement is very elegant’) is attractively melodic, with a flowing first theme and busier second subject. It is well developed, ending with a quiet coda. The Andante (Tchaikovsky: ‘Looks as if it will sound good’) has one basic song theme that takes the violins up quite high: a secondary theme is not used a great deal but Taneyev rings the changes cleverly. The Americans take the Andante instruction to heart and keep it moving; the Taneyevs are considerably slower but are so well inside the music that it never gets bogged down. Tchaikovsky especially liked the very Slavic Scherzo (Allegro con fuoco – ‘A remarkably successful and lovely piece’), which gives great scope for good timing and rhythmic interplay. The Trio is slower and becomes almost doom-laden before the fast music returns. Although the Allegro giocoso was less well liked by his teacher than the other three movements, Taneyev actually achieved a very enjoyable rondo with a slightly jagged main theme and a zippy coda.

The Sixth Quartet is a masterpiece in which all the themes derive from the arresting opening: we hear a sort of brief introduction before the Allegro giusto really gets under way. The second theme is devised from the first but has a completely different, almost skipping character. The Adagio serioso takes place much of the time against a weary, Winterreise-like trudging figure, first heard on the cello. Again in this movement the Russian players are slower, and in this way they make the trudging quality subtler, bringing a note of nostalgia to the piece. The movement contains a passionate central outburst and later takes flight, working up to a climax before ending quietly. Rather than a Scherzo, Taneyev then gives us a marvellous Giga, with a more restrained Trio section: again it ends quietly. The Allegro moderato is quite propulsive, with two contending tempo markings and at least three themes: at the end Taneyev reintroduces his opening theme, the fons et origo of the entire work, and the final phrases are quite emphatic.

Despite being made not just in different venues but different states, the Carpe Diem recordings are very well done: Jamey Lamar was in charge of both, with engineers Marlan Barry (No. 9) and Ed Thompson (No. 6). They have achieved a cohesive sound: the 1977 and 1979 Russian recordings perhaps separate the individual parts a little better. The Carpe Diem foursome play fluently and, as I indicated, have prepared the two works carefully, terracing and balancing the phrases. I would say their playing represents all things bright and beautiful, whereas the Leningraders – for whom the music was, after all, central repertoire – inject an added charge of Russian soul and project that indefinable air of command. The Taneyev Quartet is now defunct but its recorded cycles of Shostakovich, Beethoven and Schubert contain many fine things, while its Miaskovsky and Taneyev cycles may be called definitive.

The well presented Naxos CD, with useful notes by Kelly Dean Hansen, could serve as an ideal starter disc for the hitherto uncommitted.

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 (7 and 5) Byzantion



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