S. Taneyev: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 5, Quartet No. 2 (CD)

Northern Flowers
$19.99
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NFPMA9937
Artist:
The S.I. Taneyev Quartet

Recorded in 1979 by the St. Petersburg Recording Studio.  Sound Engineer: Gerhard Tses.  
Text: Northern Flowers.  English text: Sergey Suslov.  Design: Anastasiya Evmenova & Oleg Fakhrutdinov.
Cover: Victor Borissov-Mussatov, Slumber of a Deity (fragment), 1905

Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev (1856–1915)

String Quartet No. 2 in C Major, Op. 5 (1895)

1. Allegro
2. Scherzo
3. Adagio espressivo
4. Finale. Allegro vigorosamente

The S.I. Taneyev Quartet
Vladimir Ovcharek, violin
Grigory Lutzky, violin
Vissarion Solovyev, viola
Josef Levinzon, cello

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Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev and His String Quartets

Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev, remarkable Russian composer, pianist, teacher, scientist, and public figure in the world of music, was born in the ancient city of Vladimir in 1856. He started his piano studies at the age of five. In 1866, he entered Moscow Conservatory (which was opened the same year) and graduated in 1875 in the classes of P.I. Tchaikovsky (Composition, gold medal) and N. G. Rubinstein (Piano). In 1875–1880, the young musician often went abroad, and stayed for long periods in Paris where he made the acquaintance of I. Turgenev, G. Flaubert, E. Zola, C. Gounod, C. Franck, C. Saint–Saëns, and many others.

From 1878 till 1905, Taneyev taught harmony, instrumentation, composition, counterpoint, and piano at Moscow Conservatory. He was its director from 1885 till 1889. Among Taneyev’s many students were Rachmaninoff, Skriabin, Medtner, and Gliere. He combined teaching with pianist activity. Sergey Ivanovich was one of the most outstanding pianists of his times. It was he who performed Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concert in Moscow for the first time. Taneyev as pianist had a tremendous repertoire and often appeared in ensembles.

Taneyev connected his fate as personality and musician with the musical life of Moscow and its Conservatory. Due to the amazing integrity and purity of his nature, Sergey Ivanovich was called “the conscience of musical Moscow” and its “apex”. He was absolutely respected by the musical community, mixing with representatives of both Moscow and Petersburg schools of composing with equal heartiness. He had vast knowledge in most diversified fields of human activity, and his friends were remarkable writers, painters, and scientists of his times. Taneyev was tied to Tchaikovsky in a longstanding sincere friendship, which manifested itself in several volumes of captivating correspondence. This is what Modest Tchaikovsky, brother of Piotr Tchaikovsky, says about Taneyev in his memoirs: “…Never in my long life have I met with a soul more perfectly pure than Sergey Ivanovich, and no one have I respected so deeply, so utterly and meaningfully for his harmonious combination of qualities triumphantly soaring above everything that belittles the human nature. Prominent artist, great teacher, and everyday person fused in Sergey Ivanovich into an integral and strictly balanced image clear as a flawless diamond.”

Sergey Ivanovich died in Dyud’kovo Village near Moscow in 1915, having caught cold at the funeral of A. N. Skriabin.

Taneyev’s music embodied the traditions of Glinka, Tchaikovsky, J. S. Bach, and composers of the Viennese school (primarily Beethoven). One of his greatest ideas in music was creation of a “Russian polyphony”, and the need for Russian music to live through a stage of contrapuntal development. He re–considered the meaning of several genres of Russian music (chamber compositions, lyrico–philosophical cantatas). Fugue was of a special importance for his creative work, where it may be found both as an independent opus and a part of an entire.

Taneyev probable had no peers in the composership level in Russian music. He was a perfect master of the polyphonic techniques of Bach and Renaissance composers, and of the art of large form architecture. His best compositions attract you with flawlessly finished details and the logic of the entire. One of the most important works of his life, the book titled “Invertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style” (1889 –1909), is of a colossal scientific and pedagogical value.

The composer’s heritage of Taneyev is large in volume and diversified in genres. He composed Oresteia, an operatic trilogy after Aeschylus; numerous cantatas for orchestra, choir, and soloists, among which are the famous St. John of Damascus and Reading the Psalms; four symphonies; instrumental concertos; 22 opuses for chamber ensemble; over 60 songs for voice and piano; choral compositions; pieces for piano; arrangements of traditional songs, and piano transcriptions of works of other authors.

Instrumental chamber music is arguably the most important and meaningful part of Taneyev’s heritage, a peak of Russian classical music. None of his contemporaries felt such acute interest for chamber instrumentalism, resulting in interpretations so diversified. In the nearly forty years of his composing career, Taneyev wrote 22 instrumental ensembles for different sets of instruments. In this genre, he was unrivalled in Russia.

His string–and–bow ensembles splendidly demonstrate Taneyev’s knowledge of expressive resources of string instruments. In these, his inventiveness reached real heights, enchanting beauty of sound, and subtlety of color effects, let alone the polyphonic skill. Taneyev managed the secret of the quartet style in a free and virtuoso manner, applying the art of combining four voices on the basis of their complete equality, interaction, and fusion. The art of quartet was the domain where the strongest aspects of Taneyev’s artistic individuality — noble spirituality, sincerity and purity of lyrical emotion, subtle and profound intellectual culture — showed itself with the utmost fullness and perfection.

The composer created most of his quartets in his mature years, and only three quartets were written in his younger days. The author, ever demanding to himself, did not publish those early etudes, considering them imperfect. They were printed in 1952 for the first time.

Northern Flowers

Quartet No. 2 in C major, op. 5 (1895)

In his Second Quartet, Taneyev appears in the full maturity of his genius. The opus strikes with its spontaneity of intonations, intense drama, and unusually symphonic attitude. The conjunction of images in their conflict and dynamics makes it one of Taneyev’s greatest achievements in instrumental chamber music.

The main theme of the first movement (Allegro) is stern and majestic. Its proud appearance comprises a kind of inner energy, which is disclosed with a real Beethovenian might. Moreover, the very nature of many harmonic details reveals a clear influence of Beethoven. Remarkable in the final part of the first movement is the largamente episode, with its dramatic strain making you think of Tchaikovsky as the author of the Pathetic Symphony.

The second movement, Scherzo — in its first and last sections, may be described as “demonic” (there is also something of a “funeral scherzo” in it). The main theme is close in its intonations to the “Dies irae” sequence. Sinister coloring, alternation of convulsive rhythms, a cascade of accented figurations, and whirly passages — all these form a flow of exceptional sonic density. And suddenly, an abrupt turn follows. The cello intones an artless, song-like tune. It embodies something earthly, na?ve, and meek, and feminine.

Emotionally, the range of the third movement (Adagio espressivo, the lengthiest in time of all slow movements by Taneyev) extends from soft lyrical and meek attitudes to pathetic sorrow, to an outburst verging despair. The texture of the Adagio is worth noting, with its harmonic intensity of an acerbic kind sometimes, with its fragmentations, overlays, modulations, chromatisms, and delays, which however never obscures the clarity of the melodic pattern. The Adagio of the Second Quartet is undoubtedly is one of the best and most perfect pages of Taneyev’s music. The finale of the opus, with its merry tunes and fresh, pulsating rhythms, becomes a joyful and optimistic crown of the perfect musical edifice.