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See latest reviews of other albums..., May 2010

TANEYEV, S.I.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (Novosibirsk Academic Symphony, T. Sanderling) 8.570336

TANEYEV, S.I.: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4 (Novosibirsk Academic Symphony, T. Sanderling) 8.572067

There are many reasons that well-made symphonies of the 19th century have been passed over in later years. In the case of the four symphonies by Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev, the neglect is part of a more general one: the composer himself, a pupil of Tchaikovsky and Nikolai Rubinstein and teacher of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, falls into a kind of intergenerational musical limbo, and the neglect of his symphonic works is merely a part of the lack of attention given to everything he composed. Since much of his music is quite well constructed, and since there has in recent years been increasing interest in less-known composers of the Romantic era, Taneyev is slowly emerging from obscurity—but his symphonies are nevertheless rarely heard. In fairness, it should be pointed out that part of the neglect is self-inflicted: only the fourth symphony, which Taneyev designated No. 1, was published in his lifetime (1856–1915) and given an opus number, since the composer did not deem the others sufficiently worthy. In fact, he never finished No. 2 at all, despite the urging of Tchaikovsky. Thanks to mostly strong performances by Thomas Sanderling and the Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra, it is now possible to hear all the Taneyev symphonies and judge whether both history and their composer have been fair to them.

Taneyev was sometimes called “the Russian Brahms,” but except for some superficial harmonic similarities and the fact that Brahms too wrote four symphonies, the comparison is not a very good one. Taneyev’s symphonies lack the grandeur and the simultaneous structural rigor and innovation of those by Brahms, while also falling short of the emotionalism of Tchaikovsky—this latter characteristic not necessarily being a failing. (Like Tchaikovsky, interestingly, Taneyev wrote only one symphony in a major key.) Taneyev wrote all his symphonies between 1875 and 1898. No. 1, completed when he was 18, has some resemblance in its finale to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, and features themes that seem to stop and start rather than flow both in the opening movement and, more disconcertingly, in the scherzo. The finale not only sounds somewhat like Tchaikovsky’s “Little Russian” symphony but also includes a folk song later used by Stravinsky in Petrushka. Symphony No. 2 (Taneyev’s only major-key one, in B-flat) is a significantly broader, more expansive work, although Taneyev never wrote a scherzo for it and left the second movement only partially scored (the completion used by Sanderling is by Vladimir Blok). The first movement here shows skill in both polyphony and monumental orchestration, and the finale—in which timpani are prominent—is quite effective. Symphony No. 3 is broader still but, at least in this performance, suffers from a bloated-seeming first movement, which Sanderling takes at a slower tempo than the Allegro con spirito indication. The finale is this work’s best movement, featuring double canons and other contrapuntal techniques worked through with considerable skill. And No. 4 is, as Taneyev himself rightly perceived, his best symphony of all, using counterpoint to very strong effect in the first movement, employing a three-note unifying motif throughout, including a powerful and affecting Adagio and nicely flowing Scherzo (both using that three-note motto), and concluding with a movement that is grand in scope and majestic in affirmation. It remains to be seen whether any Taneyev symphony will become popular in the concert hall—but all four are certainly worthwhile experiences for listeners at home.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, May 2008

…Thomas Sanderling (son of Kurt) and his excellent Siberian Orchestra (and I mean it—they are superb) have decided to give this music its due…

David Fanning
Gramophone, May 2008

Sanderling’s spacious, lyrical approach adds fully 12 minutes to Polyansky’s playing-time. The latter, no speed-merchant himself, injects a degree of urgency that Taneyev may or may not have envisaged, but that certainly helps to keep the music buoyant. …perfectly recommendable… © 2008 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, April 2008

Although it’s clearly derivative Taneyev’s Symphony No. 1 strikes me as the more extrovert of the two. That may have more to do with my own ambivalence towards Brahms, whose shade haunts the Third from beginning to end. For what it’s worth these symphonies are not in the same league as, say, those of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov; for all his skill Taneyev surely belongs somewhere below Glière and Glazunov on the list of 19th-century Russian symphonists…A worthy issue.The playing and conducting are perfectly adequate.

Courier-Post, March 2008

Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev is better known as the friend of Tchaikovsky and the teacher of Rachmaninov and Scriabin than for the music he composed. Two of the Russian composer’s symphonies are paired in a Naxos CD featuring Thomas Sanderling and the Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra (8.570336).

Sanderling and his orchestra prove to be strong advocates for Taneyev’s music. The Third Symphony may lack the intensity of Tchaikovsky’s soul-searching orchestral scores but it proves to be an attractive score.

The conductor imbues this symphony with a warm glow that underlines the influence of Brahms on Taneyev’s music. The finale dances under his alert baton.

The First Symphony lacks the immediate appeal of the Third, but Sanderling leads a fine performance.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2008

In recent years many attempts have been made to revive the flagging fortunes of Sergey Taneyev, though few recordings have enjoyed long-term survival. A piano student of Nikolay Rubinstein and composition pupil of Tchaikovsky, it seems that his name will enter musical history as the influential Director of the Moscow Conservatory in the latter part of the 19th century. Rachmaninov, Gliere and Scriabin were among the new generation indebted to his teaching, and it was they who proved his undoing. With outgoing and highly coloured symphonic scores they sealed the fate of Taneyev’s own output, and after his death his music quickly dropped from the repertoire. Powerful, noble and elegant writing, he was far from the rough-hewn scores of his contemporaries, the symphonies devoid of Tchaikovsky’s brand of highly-charged romantic fervour. Taneyev’s character resided in long flowing melodic invention, the charming use of woodwind often carrying much of the thematic content. He was twenty-eight when he completed the First Symphony, and even at that point he was unwilling to enter in the world of Russian rhetoric. His was more classically orientated, and Germanic rather than Russian, though in the charm of the second movement you have hints of Tchiakovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ Symphony. The problem here is the scherzo that does not whizz along as had become customary in Russia, though the extended finale has hints of folk music. A gap of ten years separates that from the Third symphony. the music now having moved even further from his Russian roots, the mood of urbane good taste that was immaculately orchestrated. The performances perfectly reflect the nature of the music, the playing of the Novosibirsk Academic Symphony more refined than we hear in most other Russian orchestras, the woodwind a particular delight. Maybe the conductor, Thomas Sanderling, could have moved the tempo of the First Symphony’s second movement with more urgency, but elsewhere the pulse of the music is well judged. The recording from the West Siberian Radio is very good. Much recommended.

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