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Taneyev: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 3 / Carpe Diem String Quartet

Release Date: 07/30/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8573010   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sergei Taneyev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Carpe Diem String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TANEYEV String Quartets: No. 7 in E?; No. 5 in A Carpe Diem Str Qrt NAXOS 8.573010 (62:15)

With this release, Volume 3 in the series, the Carpe Diem String Quartet continues its survey of Sergei Taneyev’s complete string quartets. Barry Brenesal reviewed the first two volumes in 31:4 and 34:6, respectively, giving both his very strong endorsement.

It now appears from this third release that Carpe Diem is intent upon committing to disc not just the six published quartets Read more Barry mentions, but the five unpublished ones as well, for a total of 11. This surmise is based on the fact that after having given us the quartets numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4 on Volumes 1 and 2, and now No. 5 on the present release, the ensemble passes over No. 6 in favor of one of the unpublished scores, a Quartet in E? Major, composed in 1880. It is designated No.7, but chronologically, a Quartet in D Minor, completed in 1876, precedes it. If my presumption is correct, we can still expect from Carpe Diem the published No. 6 in B? Major, plus quartets in C Major (1883), A Major (1883), and C Minor (1911), the latter being among the last works Taneyev wrote before his death in 1915. All five of the unpublished quartets, save for the last-named, are early efforts, predating the official No. 1, which was composed in 1890.

This surely reinforces Barry’s observation that the string quartet was central to Taneyev’s output, and that he was the most important Russian composer of chamber music of his time. His inner circle of close friends and confidantes included Tchaikovsky, who, at first, played the part of Taneyev’s reliable and constructive critic; and then, in a reversal of roles, it was Taneyev who became Tchaikovsky’s reliable and constructive critic. Another close relationship developed between Taneyev and Rachmaninoff, the latter one of Taneyev’s students at the Moscow Conservatory. As an instructor in harmony and composition from 1878 onward, Taneyev’s roster of students is impressive: in addition to Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Medtner, Glière, Paul Juon, and Julius Conus passed through his classes.

As noted by Brenesal, and affirmed by album note author Anastasia Belina-Johnson, chamber music did not figure prominently among the works of 19th-century Russian composers. To be sure, there are a few shining examples—Tchaikovsky’s A-Minor Piano Trio, Rimsky-Korsakov’s B?-Major Quintet for Winds and Piano, Borodin’s D-Major String Quartet, Arensky’s Piano Trio in D Minor, and Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque in D Minor in memory of Tchaikovsky—but for the most part, it wasn’t until the 20th century and composers such as Shostakovich and Miaskovsky that chamber music in general and the string quartet in particular claimed a greater interest. Yet even then, major Russian composers such as Prokofiev and Kabalevsky wrote only two quartets each and not much else in the way of chamber works.

Taneyev didn’t just write 11 quartets; his abiding interest in counterpoint, motivic development, and classical form led him to study Beethoven’s quartets and to compose music that doesn’t sound particularly Russian, nor is it in a particularly effusive, late Romantic style. To the casual listener encountering these works for the first time, Taneyev’s musical vernacular may sound a bit dry and inexpressive. One waits patiently for the big, lush, arching melodies that never come. Rather, this is music that seems to find gratification in its own mechanics and inner workings.

Nowhere, in fact, in either of Brenesal’s reviews will you find the words “beautiful,” “inviting,” or “ear-pleasing” in relation to Taneyev’s quartets. Instead, you will find repeated references to Taneyev’s mastery of counterpoint and contrapuntal procedures. The slow movements make a stab at something more feeling, but find it hard to sustain the mood and never really tug at the heartstrings or stimulate the tear ducts. None of this is to say that Taneyev’s quartets are without interest. One can appreciate them intellectually, and take delight in the cleverness with which the gear-works of the two quartets’ scherzo movements mesh with such perfect clockwork precision. But there’s little in this music to whistle or hum during your daily exercise routine.

Brenesal mentions the existence of a competing version of these works by the Taneyev String Quartet on Northern Flowers. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar with that ensemble’s cycle, but I do have a couple of individual CDs of some of Taneyev’s quartets, one with the Talan Quartet on an Olympia disc, and the other with the Leningrad Taneiev Quartet on Melodiya. Neither the performances nor the recordings match the high standards on display by the Carpe Diem players on the current Naxos disc.

I suspect that patience is a necessary virtue in coming to terms with Taneyev’s string quartets. If you’re able to exercise it, these works are apt to pay handsome dividends, like blue-chip stocks you’re willing to sit on for a few years. But not being a stock broker or investment advisor, I’m afraid I can’t tell you if this is a smart buy or not. At Naxos’s budget price, it won’t cost you very much, so you might want to take the risk.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 7 in E flat major by Sergei Taneyev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Carpe Diem String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Russia 
Quartet for Strings no 5 in A major, Op. 13 by Sergei Taneyev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Carpe Diem String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902-1903; Russia 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Excellent March 16, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "If you are not familiar with the works of Sergey Tanayev, this disk might be a good place to start. Tanayev wrote superbly structured chamber music compositions in the late 19th century, among them a number of excellent string quartets. This Naxos disk contains Numbers 5 and 7, both of which are thoroughly enjoyable and demonstrate Tanayev's mastery of counterpoint, thematic development, and the effective mix of structural rigor with strong melodic content. I found these quartets very easy to listen to, as they contain a smooth ambience that makes the composer's careful attention to detail pay off. The Carpe Diem String Quartet is an excellent ensemble, with focus, precision, and commitment throughout the entire recording. Naxos' sound is excellent, as usual. If there is any possible criticism of Tanayev's music on this disk, it would be the lack of emotional embellishments overlaid on his otherwise rigorously thought-out works. In my opinion, this is not a major factor in assessing these two string quartets. Both are well worth hearing, and I think any serious chamber music fan will really appreciate this recording. Recommended." Report Abuse
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