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