Symphony No.1 in E minor
Symphony No.3 in D minor
Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 10-14 September 2006 in the Studio of West-Siberian Radio, Novosibirsk, Russia
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.570336
Duration: 76 minutes
Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915), a pupil and friend of Tchaikovsky, became a very important figure in Russian music – as a pianist (he gave the premiere of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto), conductor, composer and teacher (those enjoying his pedagogical skills included Rachmaninov and Scriabin). Of his four symphonies, only the last fully satisfied the very self-critical Taneyev (to the extent that No.4 is sometimes referred to as No.1).
The work that was actually No.1 comes last on this release. After the magnificence of the Third, such second-billing maybe doesn’t do it any favours – but that says more for the later work than to suggest any real deficiencies in what was effectively an apprentice work and a winner of a Gold Medal come examination time. Taneyev’s First Symphony (1874) is rather classical, the outer movements bearing the weight of the work’s course; what impresses is the concision of material, so too Taneyev’s refusal to colour for the sake of it – typically his arguments are founded on melody, counterpoint and clarity. After the impressively wrought first movement, the gently swaying second one is contrasted by a pointed Mazurka-like scherzo. The finale (using a folk-tune that Stravinsky would purloin for Petrushka) is rather lengthy for its material and becomes somewhat repetitive.
From ten years later the expansive Third Symphony really gives us a full picture of Taneyev’s talent and skill. The long first movement is dark and rather fatalistic; it gathers strength and, indeed, the power of the development is quite startling. The middle movements are a heavily stamping scherzo (with a rather noble trio) and a rarefied, somewhat perfumed slow movement that is quite personal in its beauty (and reminding a little of Liszt’s From the Cradle to the Grave, which was composed just before Taneyev embarked on his craggy and monumental symphony). The finale, lively and full of imperialistic pomp, is a rumbustious close.
While it is possible to imagine more charismatic performances of both these works than the somewhat functional accounts here, which are nevertheless dedicatedly prepared and well-serving of the music, there is much here that is both absorbing and fascinating – and, put simply, Taneyev’s D minor Symphony is a really great work that is a compelling listen! Recorded sound is perfectly acceptable but the false ambience between movements is amateurishly achieved and there needs to be longer gaps between movements (and the two works). Nevertheless for the asking price the considerable rewards of Symphony 3 more than outweigh any (minor) concerns over the production.