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Taneyev: String Trios / Leopold String Trio

Release Date: 10/14/2008 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67573   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Sergei Taneyev
Performer:  Kate GouldIsabelle van KeulenLawrence Power
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leopold String Trio
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TANEYEV String Trios: in E?; in b; in D Leopold Str Tr HYPERION 67573 (67:27)

If Taneyev’s String Trio in D Major were measured for its time and place on the basis of nothing but the work itself, without outside factors intruding, a reasonable guess might be Eastern Europe in the early part of the 19th century—likely by some amateur composer who was a scion of the landed gentry. Its origin in 1880 would seem next to impossible. This piece breathes the style of late Mozart and Haydn, with side ventures into Read more Baron von Swieten’s library of Bach. Numerous such trips, since the development of the opening Allegro makes much of imitation, brief fugal entries, and frequent inversions, while the second movement is an elfin Scherzo in mirrored counterpoint. The largely homophonic slow movement, a darkly ruminative Adagio ma non troppo, provides a shrewd moment of rest before the Rondo finale with its typically Russian folk character. All this sounds academic, but the reality is very different. The composer found endless opportunities for creativity in contrapuntal technique, and the medium of chamber music gave him the means to express this. Homophonic textures were just one tool at his disposal. He didn’t want to deny himself the rest.

In his autobiography My Musical Life , Rimsky-Korsakov notes of Taneyev that during the 1880s he was “a man of glaringly conservative opinions in musical art. Towards Glazunov’s early appearances he had shown deep distrust; Borodin he had considered a clever dilettante and nothing more; and Mussorgsky made him laugh . . . . His opinion of Balakirev is unknown to me; but I do know . . . at a rehearsal of the concert during the festivities in connection with the unveiling of a monument to Glinka at Smolensk . . . he publically declared to Balakirev: ‘Mili Alekseyevich! We are dissatisfied with you.’ . . . In the nineties Taneyev’s opinions of St. Petersburg composers underwent a marked change: he came to appreciate Glazunov’s activity and treated Borodin’s compositions with respect, regarding only Mussorgsky with dislike and ridicule.”

This broadening of perspective can be heard in the other two works sharing this album, though they appeared considerably later: the Trio in E? Major, from 1911, and that in B Minor from 1913. The extremely imaginative application of contrapuntal technique remains, but the character of each movement is bolder: its themes more expressive, their treatment more original. The former features a majestically expansive Allegro con brio, a scintillating Scherzino whose central section seems to quote from Grieg’s “The Hall of the Mountain King,” a richly lyrical Adagio espressivo, and concludes with a Mendelssohnian Rondo finale that recalls material from the first movement. The two-movement B-Minor Trio was in fact set aside by Taneyev two years before his death, and never completed. The ending of the first movement had to be finished by its editors when published in 1948, and a significant portion of the second movement reconstructed from sketches. The brooding Allegro in sonata form is surprisingly chromatic in its harmonic progressions, with abundantly varied two-part textures dominating. The following theme and variations is among Taneyev’s finest for sustained elegiac tone and subtlety of construction. Unusual harmonic divagations are all the more of a standout once again when set in operation on the composer’s usual diatonic thematic content.

The Leopold String Trio provides a warmth of ensemble and refinement that is welcome in Taneyev’s very detailed part-writing. Its members miss none of the warmth in the slow movements to the D Major and E? Major trios, while carefully defining each voice. Better still is the finesse they display in the pair of delicate Scherzos. The Leopolds aren’t technically perfect in either the finale to the D Major trio or the B Minor’s theme and variations, but only to the extent of an occasional intonational slip. That’s saying a lot, given the complexity of this music.

The competition isn’t quite up to their level. The Jerusalem Trio (Meridian 84149) is a bit heavy-handed in the faster movements, and prone to glancing bow problems when pushing their tempos. Their sound is over-reverberant, as well. The Belcanto Strings (MDG 6341003) is noticeably better, though I don’t find it plumbs the depths of the E? Major’s Adagio espressivo with the long-breathed phrasing heard on the current recording. In other words, the Leopold String Trio versions are, to my ear, as good as it gets, and that’s very good, indeed.

With useful liner notes and effectively balanced sound, this is a fine release to add to the burgeoning revival of interest in Taneyev’s music.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Violin, Viola and Tenor Viola in E flat major, Op. 31 by Sergei Taneyev
Performer:  Kate Gould (Cello), Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Lawrence Power (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leopold String Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1910; Russia 
Length: 24 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Trio for Strings in B minor by Sergei Taneyev
Performer:  Kate Gould (Cello), Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Lawrence Power (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leopold String Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1913; Russia 
Length: 17 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Trio for Strings in D major by Sergei Taneyev
Performer:  Kate Gould (Cello), Isabelle van Keulen (Violin), Lawrence Power (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leopold String Trio
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1879-1880; Russia 
Length: 25 Minutes 15 Secs. 

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