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Christopher Segall
Nineteenth-Century Music Review, November 2014

TANEYEV, S.I.: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 1 (Carpe Diem String Quartet) - Nos. 1, 3 8.570437
TANEYEV, S.I.: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 2 (Carpe Diem String Quartet) - Nos. 2, 4 8.572421
TANEYEV, S.I.: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 3 (Carpe Diem String Quartet) - Nos. 5, 7 8.573010

…the Carpe Diem String Quartet offers impassioned interpretations… [Their] performances should dispel any notion that Taneyev’s appeal ends with his precompositional structural planning, as they argue strongly for the quartets’ inclusion in the standard repertoire.

Violist Fujiwara’s solos stand out in particular…

By offering sensitive, passionate performances of these works, the Carpe Diem String Quartet compels listeners to hear past Taneyev’s purported didacticism and reconsider the emotional impact of his chamber music. I recommend these recordings highly. © 2014 Nineteenth-Century Music Review

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, March 2008

This album marks the beginning of a cycle of Taneyev’s quartets, and the first release is auspicious in its quality. The performances are well crafted, clearly the effect of long hours spent in performance and discussion. Tempos and dynamics are appropriately varied, while phrasing remains flexible without ever losing the pulse of the music. The Carpe Diem String Quartet isn’t quite technically proficient enough to sustain the vivace e giocoso of the First Quartet’s finale, but they don’t compromise, and the smudging is minor. Above all, I’m impressed by the group’s dark, beautiful tone, which hearkens back to some of the great Soviet quartets of yore. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, March 2008

A fascinating disc. The music of Sergei Taneyev is fully worthy of investigation. A reputation for academicism has dogged this composer so that over time his works have been completely overshadowed. He is much better known for being the teacher of Rachmaninov and Scriabin than for any works of his own. Yet Mikhail Pletnev, no less, has championed Taneyev's cantata John of Damascus - a stunning performance, coupling it with Rachmaninov's The Bells).

The American Carpe Diem Quartet plays with a burnished tone that is entirely appropriate for this music. The first quartet we hear, although indicated as No. 1, was in fact Taneyev's Fifth. It is cast in five movements, meaning that the short, central Presto acts as something of a structural pivot. The first movement is an Andante espressivo, exploratory in nature and containing moments of great stillness. The musical language seems remarkably close to Tchaikovsky's melancholy. The first slow movement, a Largo, is more pronouncedly Brahmsian in utterance, its slow-moving lyricism given full justice by the players’ burnished sound. If there is a hint of a Beethoven scherzo to the Presto - I think of Op. 130 - the mode of utterance nevertheless remains identifiably Russian at heart. The hesitancy of the first part of the Intermezzo (marked Andantino) is most affecting, especially when played in these hushed, almost reverential tones. The musical material makes reference to the popular Russian song, Dark Eyes. The finale scampers playfully, meaning the witty final gesture makes perfect sense. There is an alternative version of this quartet available – the Taneyev Quartet on the Northern Flowers label, coupled with the Fourth Quartet but I have yet to hear this.

The Third Quartet comprises only two movements. The sombre first movement is the shortest (at 9:19). Unfortunately I have not had access to the score - it would be interesting to see the notation - for despite the tempo indication of Allegro, this could pass muster for a slow movement in almost all contexts. The second movement is a Theme and Variations. Booklet annotator Dina Lentsner is right to identify a Mozartian element in the lightness and grace of the theme, given out here with delicious charm. The Carpe Diem Quartet evidently takes great pleasure in Taneyev's set of variations, particularly the more virtuoso parts.

The fact this is billed as Volume 1 is cause for some enthusiastic celebration. Let us hope Volume 2 follows on swiftly.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2008

It’s not just that Taneyev’s Quartets are among his strongest works – they’re stylistically intriguing as well. There’s a vein of proto-modernity about them that keeps one constantly alive as to his harmonic directions. And the broad span of the Op. 4 quartet – written in five movements – allows for considerable variety. Though it carries an early opus number Taneyev was in his mid-thirties when he wrote it so it’s hardly a child of his youth.

It’s a strongly argued work, long on expressive gestures. It opens with a long Andante espressivo, moves on to a Largo and just as one thinks that Slavic gloom couldn’t get gloomier, at least in superficial form - it’s not actually a gloomy work - we confront a brisk Presto. Then another slow-ish movement, an Intermezzo, and finally a vivacious and decidedly giocoso conclusion. The highlight of the five-movement Quartet is the Andante, a tremendously warm affair whose gestures are never superficial or generic. If there is a fault, and I think this is Taneyev’s responsibility more than that of his interpreters, it’s that the thickness of the writing – that old line about Taneyev being Brahmsian in his scoring – can lead to a rather clotted, ultimately unfocused sense of direction. After the depth of expression here the quartet lightens and brightens incrementally; the finale is certainly delightful but it’s not as distinctive as the first two movements in particular.

The Third Quartet was completed six years later. It’s in two movements, the first a standard Allegro and the second a Theme and Variations. This is another work that advances the Russian quartet stylistically beyond Tchaikovskian models. And in this work it’s the very extensive second movement, all seventeen and a half minutes of it, that bears the biggest weight in this respect. The dainty classical theme is a prelude for an array of multi-variegated variations – which run from the obviously folkloric, to intimations of Borodin, echoes of Tchaikovsky, a beautiful, indeed ravishing, lied and the slow, gentle relapse into repose and quietude. It took some daring to construct so big a movement and equally so to end it so reflectively.

The Carpe Diem String Quartet plays with firmness and commitment. They can phrase very plaintively but sometimes their corporate sonority comes across as rather brittle. That said I quite took to the husky-toned violist Korine Fujiwara. One thing that I think needs to be investigated further is how a quartet of expressive tonalists would handle some of the more clotted writing; here things do sound a touch unfocused from time to time, and the First Quartet in particular could do with a greater delineation of voicings to alleviate mushy writing. Otherwise a welcome offering that shows Taneyev in emphatic and questing compositional form.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, December 2007

With this release Naxos begins a new chamber music series devoted to all the string quartets (there are nine) of Russian composer Sergey Taneyev (1856-1915). But first a word of explanation about the currently accepted numbering of these works, which is confusing to say the least. That’s because it's based on when they were published rather than written. Quartets seven through nine as they’re known today were actually composed before one through six, so their chronological order is seven, eight, nine, one, two, three, four, five and six. In hopes of clarifying this issue, the order number in which Taneyev finished a given quartet will be indicated in parenthesis after the published one, i.e. first (fourth)...ninth (third).

Taneyev's academic associations were quite remarkable when you consider he studied with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who was also a devoted friend, as well as Nikolai Rubinstein. What's more his students included such greats as Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner and Gliere. He was a master of counterpoint and published a highly regarded treatise on the subject. Consequently this discipline is much in evidence throughout all of his output. He was not the tunesmith that some of his Russian contemporaries were, but his music has an organizational integrity second to none. In this respect his creations reflect Beethoven's preoccupation with structural perfection rather than Schubert's predisposition for melody. The quartets featured here are certainly a good starting point for those interested in exploring some of the least known, but most sophisticated Russian romantic chamber music ever written.

The first (fourth) quartet (1890), which was dedicated to Tchaikovsky, certainly shows his mentor's influence, because it's full of an emotionality and pathos rarely found in Taneyev's other music. Instead of the usual four movements, there are five which alternate between fast and slow. The opening one begins in an interrogatory manner, but a sprightly theme, followed by a more insistent melody are soon introduced. Taneyev, being an absolute master of contrapuntal manipulation, proceeds to develop these in most rigorous fashion. The movement then comes to an anguished conclusion, setting the mood for the mournful largo that follows. This contains a couple of heart-wrenching melodies that cannot help but move the listener. However the clouds of despair soon roll by with the mercurial presto that's next. The fourth movement is a rueful intermezzo that's similar in mood to the preceding largo, but has some piquant pizzicato that sets it apart. The cheeky, tuneful finale is atypical of Taneyev. It sounds like something Franz Josef Haydn, who was the father of the string quartet, might have written had he lived another seventy-five years. Its impish ending will leave a smile on your face.

The third (sixth) quartet (1896) is a final revision of one that Taneyev composed and dedicated to Rachmaninov ten tears earlier. In spite of the fact that it’s a bit of an oddball with only two movements, it became his most popular. And chances are, if a poll were taken today, it would remain so. There's a lyricism, sophistication and sense of drama about the opening allegro that's reminiscent of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky rolled into one. But Taneyev saves the best for last in the form of an absolute killer theme and variations which must rank as one of the finest in the string quartet literature. After you hear it, you may well find yourself putting your CD player on repeat. The main theme is exceptional for its classical innocence, simplicity and grace. Yet there's a hurdy-gurdy quality about it which gives it a folk feel that makes it all the more appealing. The variations are some of the most imaginative and sophisticated you could ever hope for. The tragic ending is just as moving as that for the theme and variations which concludes Tchaikovsky's piano trio (1881-82).

The Carpe Diem quartet plays both works here with exceptional sensitivity and attention to detail. What its members may lack in "Russian Soul," which was so evident in the Taneyev Quartet's traversal of this literature (their performances appeared on five, separately released, Northern Flowers CDs that became CLOFO recommendations in 2006) they make up for in sophistication and technical ability.

Speaking of the Northern Flowers discs, many experienced tracking problems on at least one of them. So we'll be replacing them on the CLOFO recommendations, chamber music index page with these new ones from Naxos, assuming the Carpe Diem keeps up the good work. This substitution is further justified by the fact that the Naxos recorded sound, although a bit on the dry side, is far superior to that on the Northern Flowers releases.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, December 2007

Naxos continues to provide a tremendous service to international chamber music with an extensive variety of recordings. This year there have been several valuable Naxos sets that I have especially enjoyed: the string quartets of Schumann, Glazunov’s five novelettes and string quintet from the Fine Arts, Malcolm Arnold’s works for string quartet from the Maggini and his wind chamber music from East Winds not to mention three volumes of Arnold Bax’s violin and viola music.

Comprising members of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Carpe Diem are quartet-in-residence at the Conservatory of Music at Capital University. This disc is first volume of a projected complete cycle from the Carpe Diem of the Taneyev quartets.

In 1866 Russian-born Sergey Taneyev entered the Moscow Conservatory and later became a composition student of Tchaikovsky. He also received piano tuition from Nikolay Rubinstein and graduated with a gold medal for performance and composition. As a virtuoso pianist he was entrusted by Tchaikovsky with the premières of virtually all his scores for piano and orchestra. It seems that Taneyev was the only composer from his circle from whom Tchaikovsky sought critical appraisals of his scores. In 1881 he returned to the Moscow Conservatory to undertake teaching duties and in 1885 was appointed as Conservatory Director.

Kept in the shadows for many years his music is rapidly gaining a large group of enthusiasts. Taneyev champion, the eminent Russian pianist; conductor and composer Mikhail Pletnev, interviewed for The Independent in 2005, expressed the opinion that Taneyev was, “…the key figure in Russian musical history… He was the greatest polyphonist after Bach. And look who his pupils were: Rachmaninov and Scriabin, and Prokofiev who said he learned more about composing in one hour from Taneyev than from all his other tutors at the Moscow Conservatory.”

Taneyev is best remembered today as the composer of four symphonies and his second cantata At the Reading of a Psalm (1914-15). The cantata was his final work, completed just two years before the Russian Revolution, and is receiving significant advocacy from Pletnev. Very active in the field of chamber music, Taneyev composed over twenty scores in the genre, including, according to Grove Music Online nine string quartets between 1874-1911, plus two incomplete quartets; two string quintets (1901 and 1904); a piano quartet (1906) and a piano quintet (1911).

I can highly recommend a superb version of the Piano Quintet, Op. 30(1911) and Piano Trio, Op. 22 from a stellar cast: Vadim Repin (violin), Ilya Gringolts (violin), Nobuko Imai (viola), Lynn Harrell (cello) and Mikhail Pletnev (piano). This was recorded in Vevey, Switzerland in 2003 and issued on Deutsche Grammophon 477 5419. Another Taneyev release to receive considerable acclaim is the live 2003 St. Petersburg, Russia recording of At the Reading of a Psalm.This is conducted by Pletnev and performed by the Russian National Orchestra, the St. Petersburg State Academy Capella Choir, the Boys Choir of the Glinka Choral College and soloists on PentaTone Classics Super Audio CD PTC 5186 038.

Taneyev’s wrote his five movement Quartet No. 1 in 1890, the year after resigning as Conservatory Director to concentrate more fully on his composing and counterpoint teaching. It seems that the score was actually Taneyev’s fifth string quartet but the first to be accorded an opus number.

In the extended opening movement Andante espressivo the Carpe Diems emphasise the dramatic, dark and restless aspects with the writing showing only brief glimpses of beauty. The lengthy Largo is mournful and affecting. This is not love music but more evocative of heartbreaking pain and sadness after the death of someone close. In the short, agitated and nervy Presto the music scampers from corner to corner. One welcomes a mood change in the Intermezzo which has a wistful and restful quality with not a care in the world. I especially enjoyed the high spirited and good natured playing in the fifth and concluding movement.

The Quartet No. 3 was written in 1886 and underwent revision in 1896; a time that marked the recent blossoming of Taneyev’s friendship with the eminent writer Leo Tolstoy. The score is cast in two movements with the huge final movement being a theme and eight variations. Lasting over seventeen minutes in performance the closing movement must be one of the longest in the genre of late-Romantic quartets.

Played with considerable assurance, the first movement Allegro has an unsettling and uncertain quality with fascinating writing that meanders from one idea to another. In the second movement Taneyev has selected a light and attractive Mozartean theme. I have attempted to identify each variation commencing from point 1:01 where a broken love affair must surely have been the motivation for the sorrowful first variation. The serious and melodic second variation follows at 2:57 and from 4:14 the players impress with the hectic and robust quality of the third variation. The fourth at 5:13 has the character of a folk dance; from 6:16 variation five is interpreted with tense undercurrents of sorrow through the general good humour. The brisk and rhythmic sixth variation at 9:17 contains an abundance of pizzicato. At 11:31 the slow and gentle variation seven offers a memorable and heartbreaking melody. In the dark and rich eighth and final variation at 14:49 the low strings dominate with confident and urgent playing.

The engineers are to be congratulated for the excellent sound quality. I found the booklet notes, comprising two short essays, to be adequate but the playing time of just over one hour seems ungenerous.

With assured playing and impressive unity from the Carpe Diem the disc is a valuable addition to Taneyev’s expanding discography. For those new to the rewarding and accessible sound-world of Taneyev this makes an excellent and inexpensive introduction to his chamber music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2007

A piano student of Nikolay Rubinstein and composition pupil of Tchaikovsky, it was Sergey Taneyev's years as the influential Director of the Moscow Conservatory that will enter his name into musical history. It was in that period that Rachmaninov, Glier and Scriabin were among the new generation indebted to his teaching, and it was they who proved his undoing. Their outgoing works sealed the fate of Taneyev's own output, his scores failing to capture the outgoing brilliance of his pupils, and after his lifetime quickly dropped from the repertoire. Recently revived interest in his symphonies has shown such neglect has been unjust, his powerful, noble and elegant writing being far from the rough-hewn music of his contemporaries. That elegance is equally evident in his string quartets, though when he allows a sense of fun enter in the charming intermezzo and bouncy finale of the First Quartet, the music quickly throws off its academia. Always a lonely person you can feel the happiness he experienced of working his way through the possibilities of the theme and variations that dominates the two movements of the Third Quartet, the sad ending coming as a surprise. That we are to have the complete quartets from the American-based Carpe Diem Quartet is a pleasure for the future. Now in residence at the Conservatory of Music at Capital University, it is well attuned to the Taneyev idiom, the music allowed to unfold at a natural pace, the relatively dry recorded sound well suited to the music.

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