TANEYEV John of Damascus.1 Suite de concert, op. 282 • Thomas Sanderling, cond; Ilya Kaler (vn);2 Gnesin Academy Ch;1 Russian PO • NAXOS 8.570527 (72:15 Text and Translation)
Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev (1856–1915) was one of Tchaikovsky’s prizeRead more pupils in composition at the Moscow Conservatory, and was recognized as one of Russia’s most talented pianists, leading Tchaikovsky to entrust Taneyev with the Moscow premiere of his First Piano Concerto in 1875. As a composer, Taneyev was torn between his mentor and friend, Tchaikovsky, and the growing influence of the Russian nationalists known as the “Mighty Handful” or “Mighty Five,” who were openly hostile to what they perceived as Tchaikovsky’s and Taneyev’s Western, cosmopolitan leanings. Their hostility with regard to Taneyev was not without cause, for he had turned even farther back and farther West than Tchaikovsky had, steeping himself in study of the imitative counterpoint of Bach, Palestrina, and the great masters of the Flemish Renaissance. Taneyev became renowned for his treatise, Imitative Counterpoint in Strict Style, in which he posited that music was a branch of pure mathematics, even going so far as to quote Leonardo da Vinci who wrote, “No branch of study can claim to be considered a true science unless it is capable of being demonstrated mathematically.”
Listening to Taneyev’s music, one does not sense that number holds sway over muse. To the contrary, the Suite de concert, written in 1909, is a novel, if rather disorganized, approach to a Romantic violin concerto. It’s an unusual conflation of serenade, neo-Baroque suite, and theme and variations that—in the hearing of it—seems to divide into movements or sections: an introductory Prelude, followed by a scherzo-like Gavotte, and then a slowish “Fairy Tale” movement marked Andantino. These three movements, in turn, set the stage, none too convincingly, for a theme and six variations with an extended variation-coda. But that’s not the end of this identity-confused work. The grand finale is a spirited Tarantella. In terms of style, I suppose some of the writing is suggestive of Glazunov’s A-Minor Violin Concerto that preceded the Suite de concert by five years; but there’s a passage beginning at 2:49 in the “Fairy Tale” movement that bears an uncanny resemblance to Chausson’s Poéme for violin and orchestra, written in 1896. It has long been the composer’s most widely known and recorded piece. In fact, as recently as 32:6, Robert Maxham reviewed a new recording of it with violinist Ilya Gringolts on Vol. 7 of Hyperion’s “Romantic Violin Concerto” series. But David Oistrakh recorded the work for EMI as far back as 1956. Russian violinist Ilya Kaler has been one of Naxos’s long time and most dependable house artists, having recorded a respectable cross section of the Romantic violin repertoire. While Taneyev’s piece is no salon morceau, neither is it a virtuosic vehicle like the almost exactly contemporary Glazunov and Sibelius concertos. Kaler’s rounder tone and less excitable approach work well in the Taneyev, and I prefer his performance to that of Gringolts.
When it comes to the cantata, Ioann Damaskin, Naxos is up against serious competition from a fantastic recording of the work on Deutsche Grammophon with Mikhail Pletnev conducting the Russian National Orchestra and Moscow Chamber Chorus. An even stronger selling point in favor of the Pletnev is the cantata’s discmate, a stunning performance of Rachmaninoff’s The Bells. Not even members of the “Mighty Handful” who may have heard Taneyev’s op. 1 could have accused the composer of Western tendencies in the work’s first two movements, which are as dark and as Russian as black vodka. Inspired by a poem by Tolstoy, the text of the cantata—specifically the eighth chapter of the poem which the professed atheist Taneyev chose to set—has the chorus singing of Judgment Day and the afterlife. It’s in the cantata’s third and final movement that Taneyev abandons his Russian Orthodox robes to produce an extended and powerful fugue, already an early indication of his mastery of Western contrapuntal art. With its Russian chorus, orchestra, and conductor, the performance sounds convincingly authentic. But then the same can be said of Pletnev’s recording, and the Deutsche Grammophon has a slight edge in terms of sonic depth and ambiance. So, a tough decision: the Suite de concert is done more to my taste by Kaler on the new Naxos release than it is by Gringolts on Hyperion; but for the cantata, I prefer the Deutsche Grammophon for both the recording and the Rachmaninoff coupling. At Naxos’s budget price, though, I’d say the new CD is well worth the modest investment.
Excellent Russian Late RomanticismFebruary 28, 2013By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Tanayev's cantata 'John of Damascus' has its roots in ancient Russian Orthodox mysticism and is a work of delicate beauty. Scored for chorus and orchestra, this work is Tanayev's first that he considered of sufficient quality to be formally published (hence its Op. 1 designation). The major piece on this excellent Naxos disk is an extended and virtuosic piece for violin and orchestra, Suite de Concert. Consisting of 7 individual sections of varying intensity and colorations, Suite de Concert demands an inexhaustible attack by the violinist, and in this regard, Ilya Kaler's performance is definitive and powerful. Backed up by the first class Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, Kaler rips through a sinister prelude, dances through a lively gavotte, navigates an intricate set of variations on a fundamental theme, and ultimately powers his way through the work's scintillating final tarentella. I think you will find both works to be of high quality and well worth exploring. A fine release indeed by Naxos- recommended."Report Abuse