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Taneyev: The Twelve Choruses / Kaljuste, Et Al

Release Date: 12/27/2005 
Label:  Globe   Catalog #: 5197   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sergei Taneyev
Conductor:  Tönu Kaljuste
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Chamber Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

S. TANEYEV 12 Choruses , op. 27 ? Tönu Kaljuste, cond; Netherlands CCh ? GLOBE 5197 (54:42 & )

Taneyev first published this collection in 1910, a decade after the death of his poet, Jakov Petrovich Polonsky. The latter was a favorite of Taneyev, and utilized by the composer in his Four Songs , op. 32, Read more style="font-style:italic">Five Songs , op. 33, Seven Songs , op. 34, and Cantata to Celebrate the Opening of the Church of Christ our Savior . With few exceptions, these are settings of nature poems, in which landscape furnishes the means to personal meditation of an optimistic and spiritual nature. As such, they appealed to Taneyev, a friend and spiritual child of Tolstoy, who believed in both the power of the human spirit and the reforming influence of the arts.

The composer released these choruses as one set, but subdivided it into three volumes. At times, the work?s style appears to derive from the German choral tradition, as in the elaborate ?Prometheus?; but on other occasions, such as ?From the clouds? or ?Evening,? the influence of Bortniansky?s beautiful sacred choral concertos is apparent. There is a sense of progression in complexity in these works, with the third volume consisting of the most elaborate pieces. The inspiration, though, is spread evenly throughout, and I suspect that a second volume piece, ?A Prayer,? could become a choral favorite if it were better known, thanks both to the beauty of the melodic line and its subtle treatment.

Taneyev?s Choruses can be called orchestral, in the sense that their musical complexity makes few allowances for the problems associated with vocal production. Sustained note passages that tax the breath might be expected, but there are also cruelly exposed entries on unprepared tones, and occasional passages in which up to four vocal parts actively pursue separate lines outside a strict polyphonic framework. The textural range is extreme, sometimes within a single piece. ?A Tower in ruins,? for instance, moves from rich, four-part harmony (anchored in those earth-deep Russian basses) to a spider web frailty in two contrapuntal voices, while ?On the ship? contrasts four-part harmonies in free rhythm with strict entries in a fast-moving, four part texture. It?s no wonder these pieces are seldom performed; and I can find no evidence of a prior recording of the complete set, either on LP or CD.

This makes the current CD that much more valuable, and fortunately, the performances are good. The Netherlands Chamber Choir is currently in its 70th year, with an enviable reputation in a wide range of music that includes Desprez, Obrecht, Poulenc, Kodály, and Andriessen. In turn, Tönu Kaljuste assumed leadership of the Ellerhein Chamber Choir in 1974, and led that group to first prize at the ninth Béla Bartók International Choral Competition in 1980. In more recent years, he has led the Swedish Radio Choir (1994?2000) and the Netherlands Chamber Choir (1998?2000). It was during his tenure with the latter group that this recording was made. There?s no question that the NCC is capable of performing music of this difficulty, and they do so without any loss of expressiveness. They bring out the Mendelssohnian delicacy of ?Look, such a mist!? and revel in the richly blended harmonies of ?On the ship.? I was occasionally surprised by a ragged entry, such as that which leads off ?Over the mountains,? but such slips are very few. These are admirable performances, virtuosic yet sensitive to the music.

No venue listings are supplied, but my guess is that one of Amsterdam?s acoustically reverberant churches did the honors. There is a slight loss to immediacy, with compensation in the form of good acoustical balance and an excellent projection of the overall choir sound. Texts are provided in both English and Anglicized Russian. In short, recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Choruses (12), Op. 27 by Sergei Taneyev
Conductor:  Tönu Kaljuste
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Chamber Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1909; Russia 

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