Quintet in G minor for piano, two violins, viola and cello, Op.30
Trio in D for piano, violin and cello, Op.22
Mikhail Pletnev (piano), Vadim Repin & Ilya Gringolts (violins), Nobuko Imai (viola) & Lynn Harrell (cello)
Recorded in July & August 2003 in the Théâtre, Vevey
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: October 2005
CD No: DG 477 5419
Duration: 83 minutes
There are some surprising facts about Sergey Taneyev (1856-1915), who replaced his friend Tchaikovsky at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, at the age of only 22, when the latter resigned. Amongst them are that Taneyev was probably the first composer to set Esperanto texts, that he was one of the few Russian composers who was a teetotaller, and that Tolstoy’s wife fell passionately in love with him without his ever being aware of it. Despite being dubbed “the Russian Brahms” his music has never enjoyed the wider currency it deserves.
This release makes handsome amends, clearly a labour of love for the musicians involved, and it features two large-scale works, the Piano Quintet, taking 44 minutes here, and the supposedly Brahmsian Piano Trio.
Mikhail Pletnev has persistently championed Taneyev (as has Steven Isserlis who mounted a Taneyev Festival at the Wigmore Hall a few years ago) and his enthusiasm clearly communicates itself to his colleagues.
It could be said about Taneyev’s music that it is rather like a person who becomes a rather good friend but takes a little getting to know. Be prepared to play the disc several times to allow this highly individual music to grow on you. The investment in time and effort will be well spent.
Taneyev’s Piano Quintet (1911) is a work on the grandest scale, its first movement alone lasting nearly 20 minutes. It begins with a memorable, shadowy Adagio mesto introduction, and the faster music it heralds is blessed with a second theme as memorable as that in Kalinnikov’s First Symphony. But what is genuinely remarkable is the unpredictability of the byways down which Taneyev takes us in the course of this extended movement. The mercurial scherzo that follows is light of finger and reminds of Fauré, whilst the slow movement is a remarkably original passacaglia based on 40 repetitions of a descending bass line. The finale concludes with the grandest of codas conceived on an almost orchestral scale. Having Ilya Gringolts as second violin and Nobuko Imai as violist is a huge advantage in this opulent music, the inner parts having rare warmth and vibrancy. Pletnev brings all his customary finesse and virtuosity to the considerable piano part.
The Piano Trio (1908) – played by Pletnev, Repin and Harrell – is described in the booklet note as “closer to Brahms”. Actually, the sobriquet “the Russian Brahms” is a misnomer and does Taneyev few favours with its implication of music both Teutonic and heavy. Yes, Taneyev undoubtedly placed a higher premium on polyphony than most other Russian composers of the period, but he has a very distinctive voice and his music frequently displays a lightness of touch and a warm lyricism that is far from Germanic. Pletnev, Repin and Harrell give a passionate and elegant account in equal measure.
The recording is grateful on the ear, accommodates the most fully-written passages with ease, and is beautifully balanced. Pletnev and friends put us in their debt with top-flight performances of little-known works that both have claims to be masterpieces.