Taneyev: Piano Quintet and String Quintets

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COMPOSERS: Taneyev
LABELS: Supraphon
WORKS: Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 30; String Quintet in G, Op. 14; String Quintet in C, Op. 16
PERFORMER: Olga Vinokur (piano), Jiπí Bárta (cello), Jitka Hosprová (viola); Martin∞ Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: SU4176-2

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As recent releases of Taneyev’s chamber music have accumulated, it’s clear that his real genius lies here, not in the symphonies or cantatas. The string quintets emerge as near-orchestral giants, hard to categorise. Not having heard the Taneyev Quartet and friends’ early 1980s interpretations (on Northern Flowers), I was knocked for six by these two works, even more than by the relatively famous and later Piano Quintet. The G major Quintet has outer movements respectively as labyrinthine and as ambitious in scale as that epic’s first movement, but their themes are less conventional. The opening Allegro spirito begins obliquely and coasts to a magical dying fall; the theme for a set of variations as ambitious as those in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio is simple to begin with, but subsequent harmonic adventures complicate later excursions. Taneyev the contrapuntal master solves every problem, but never aridly.

These are works which need helpful analysis and description: why the quotation of the Sea King’s octatonics in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko in Op. 14’s fugue, for instance? Yet the booklet note tells us only that the work is ‘relatively extensive yet only made up of three movements’. The form of the C major Quintet is hardly ‘looser and more patulous’; it’s actually easier to follow, though no less wondrous in its themes and their treatment. The finest performance here is undoubtedly the perfectly-integrated sound of piano (Olga Vinokur, superlative) and strings in Op. 30, while in the string quintets I can imagine performances running a greater gamut of dynamics. But a thousand thanks to the Martin∞s and their colleagues for enlightenment.

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David Nice