The Carpe Diem String Quartet perform Taneyev

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COMPOSERS: Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Taneyev
WORKS: String Quartets, Vol. 4: No. 6 in B flat, Op. 19; No. 9 in A (1883)
PERFORMER: Carpe Diem String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.573470

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Taneyev has something of a reputation for long and rambling chamber works. The old Melodiya recordings of his string quartets by the Taneyev Quartet (now available on Northern Flowers), though lovely sounding, hardly dispelled that impression with their leisurely tempos. Carpe Diem’s latest volume in their on-going series now truly blows away the cobwebs.

Rather confusingly, several of Taneyev’s quartets were first published in the 1950s, some 35 years after his death, and were numbered consecutive to his last completed work in that medium, published in 1905 as String Quartet No. 6. Quartet ‘No. 9’, composed some 22 years earlier, was critiqued by Taneyev’s close friend Tchaikovsky: he particularly approved of the scherzo – one can hear why in Carpe Diem’s lively and engaging account, utterly transforming its character from the rather dozy and worthy impression given by the Taneyev Quartet. Even in slow movements Carpe Diem score over their predecessors with notably more secure tuning by their viola player, Korine Fujiwara.

Quartet No. 6, while still recognisably using the same 19th-century Romantic syntax, involves rather leaner textures among the quasi-orchestral tuttis. There are some startlingly pointed uses of dissonance, notably in the second movement, initially a solemn processional which becomes increasingly troubled, culminating in dramatic outbursts. That and the charming scherzo which follows makes one wonder whether Taneyev admired Elgar’s First Symphony.

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Daniel Jaffé