Toccata Classics – Sergey Taneyev

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto in E flat
Prelude in F
Lullaby in B flat
Theme and Variations in C minor
Allegro in E flat
Andantino semplice in B minor
Repose (Elegy) in E
March in D minor
Four Improvisations [with Arensky, Glazunov & Rachmaninov]
The Composer’s Birthday [for narrator and piano/four hands]
The Composer’s Birthday [for piano/four hands]

Joseph Banowetz (piano)

Russian Philharmonic of Moscow
Thomas Sanderling [Concerto]

Vladimir Ashkenazy (narrator) & Adam Wodnicki (piano) [The Composer’s Birthday]

Concerto recorded 31 October-1 November 2005 in Studio No.5, Moscow State Broadcasting and Radio House, Moscow; Solo piano music recorded 19-21 July 2006 in the Mesquite Performing Arts Center, Dallas

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: May 2007
TOCC 0042
Duration: 77 minutes

As a teacher, Sergey Taneyev’s exalted position in Russian musical history is well deserved. Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Glière all flourished under his guidance, and Tchaikovsky’s works for piano and orchestra all bear his dedication.

As a composer, life has been harder for Taneyev (1856-1915), hence this being the first recording of his principal work for piano and orchestra. Written when he was just 19, the Piano Concerto was rejected out of hand by Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Rubinstein and Cui in 1876, prompting its composer to discard the project before completion. What remains is a sizeable Allegro first movement and a shorter Andante, the latter completed and orchestrated by Dmitri Shebalin.

From Joseph Banowetz and with Thomas Sanderling’s sympathetic direction, the potentially sprawling opening movement makes structural sense, and its heroic theme lives long in the memory by the end. When the pianist arrives on the scene some four minutes in it is by stealth rather than for virtuosic means, and this typifies Banowetz’s approach in keeping with Sanderling’s orchestral counterpoint, rather than blustering his way to the front.

This works especially well in the shorter, introspective Andante funèbre, whose first bars are more than a touch prophetic of the opening of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto. The orchestral response, rather than affirmative, is dark and foreboding, yet the movement finds its peace in order to close, meaning the two sections can function properly as a concerto. Worth pointing out, too, that Rachmaninov’s Second also began life as a two-movement work.

The generously filled disc moves on to take in an examination of Taneyev’s works for solo piano, from the large scale Theme and Variations to the miniature The Composer’s Birthday, for narrator and piano/four hands. In something of a coup, Vladimir Ashkenazy provides the oration for Tchaikovsky’s birthday-present, which is an interesting novelty.

Taneyev’s piano music is rarely performed, save an occasional airing of the Preludes and Fugues, so it’s instructive to draw parallels with Brahms in the F major Prelude, Chopin in the E major Repose. Banowetz also brings out Glazunov in the exotically harmonised March, and sets out the structure of the Theme and Variations in a serious but well-judged performance.

More novelty value is found in the Four Improvisations, worked through with the help of friends Arensky, Glazunov and Rachmaninov. The four brief pieces are interesting but ultimately trinkets, though their value is held as one of six premiere recordings on this disc.

A fascinating release then, a worthy counterpart to the Kosenko disc also on Toccata Classics, and joining Mikhail Pletnev’s DG issue in adding weight to Taneyev’s credentials as a composer. His music stands up well.

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