Taneyev: String Quartets No. 1; ‘String Quartet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Taneyev
LABELS: Olympia
WORKS: String Quartets No. 1; ‘String Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Krasni Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: OCD 697
Whatever its practical shortcomings, Steven Isserlis’s London Taneyev Festival in January certainly made a vivid case for this curious composer’s intricately wrought chamber music; and that was to reckon without his six mature string quartets, the first two of which were new to me here. They provide a masterly missing link in Russian music between the over-recorded Borodin and Tchaikovsky quartets and Shostakovich’s cycle of 15. Tchaikovsky was the dedicatee of his pupil’s Op. 4, which may not attempt the master’s way with full-blooded melody but goes much further in joining together its elaborate individual parts. A staccato, neo-classical finale comes as a light-hearted surprise after the soul-searching of earlier movements.

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The real gem, though, is the Second Quartet, which reveals Taneyev as the Russian Brahms in

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his blend of healthy vitality with intellectual rigour. There are some radiant ideas in the first movement, and the trio tune of the scherzo is of winning grace; but Taneyev’s genius emerges in the unexpectedness of the quartet’s long-term arguments and ever-surprising transitions, capped in the finale by a far from dry double fugue. The Petersburg-based Krasni players, still in their early twenties, surmount the difficulties with full-blooded maturity – rather aggressively recorded – and serve the quiet codas with wonderful subtlety. Roll on, volumes two and three. David Nice