Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars An Early and a Late Taneyev Quartet, 17 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Taneyev: Complete String Quartets Vol.3 [Carpe Diem Quartet] [Naxos: 8573010] (Audio CD)
There are those who avoid the music of Taneyev because they've been told by the experts that he is an academic composer who can't write an attractive melody and who uses too much fustian counterpoint. That's all wrong, of course. There is plenty of gorgeous music in Taneyev's canon and these two quartets give credence to that assertion.

The big surprise here is that the early Taneyev quartet, numbered No. 7 because it was not published in his lifetime and thus is numbered to follow his previously published six quartets, is the most immediately attractive of the two on this disc. He wrote it when he was 24 and studying in Paris. In a letter to his mentor Tchaikovsky he said he had been studying the quartets of Mozart and Beethoven and was following some of their compositional precepts. And indeed the quartet sounds in spots like late Beethoven but just when one settles into that assumption along comes a quintessentially Russian tune that reminds us that this is a Western-leaning Russian composer who lives in both worlds. The opening movement of this Seventh Quartet is a monster -- thirteen minutes -- that uses such classical devices as complex counterpoint, including a four-voice canon, as well as occurrence of thematic inversion but which is songful and formally satisfying. Harmonically it is more advanced than Beethoven but not as chromatic as Wagner. The movement is followed by the heart of the quartet, an Adagio cantabile that is lyrical and deeply felt. There is considerable chordal writing as well as the expected polyphony. The Scherzo has a slow introduction before launching into a rhythmically vigorous main section in triple time, a tarantella. From then on the slow and fast sections alternate and it ends on a serene note. The Finale, Allegro molto, is marked by good humor and sly use of canonic gestures.

The Fifth Quartet in A Major, Op. 13, was written in 1903, twenty-three years after the Seventh. Taneyev's style had matured into even greater mastery but this particular quartet intentionally partakes of Haydnesque lightness both in its geniality and brevity, lasting only 24 minutes as compared to the 38 minutes of the Seventh. The first movement, Allegro con spirito, is highly syncopated and has terse dramatic interjections alternating with dancelike sections. The Adagio espressivo is an angst-ridden cri du coeur followed by the Allegro molto third movement with whimsical syncopations that wipe away any melancholy. This short movement leads into the finale, Presto, which continues the upbeat, playful mood often pitting pithy motifs from the viola and cello against flowing lines in the two violins. The whole thing concludes with exuberant high spirits.

The Carpe Diem Quartet is a young group founded in the mid-2000s and has already had several personnel changes. But they sound to be a mature, musically secure group who are apt promoters of this repertoire that is not so well-known in the West. For some reason the recording by this Ohio-based quartet was made in a studio in Boise, Idaho. The sonics are excellent.

Scott Morrison
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 21 Sep 2013 12:02:11 BDT
O. Rydland says:
My main issue with this disc is not the music, but the quality of the recording which is to put it mildly undistiguished, and lots of sloppy editing. Eg listen to the 1st violin i 9'10" - that should have been redone - and it's not the only instance!
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J Scott Morrison
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Location: Middlebury VT, USA

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