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William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, October 2009

It includes three mature works that are well-known. We also get to hear four earlier works that the composer never allowed to be published, and which, like a number of others, were only released to the world in the 1950s. This is a shame because all four demonstrate that Taneyev was already a notable composer very early in his career.

Two of the works date from the composer’s student years. The Overture in D-minor was his graduation piece and won an award. It is rather somber, with a Tchaikovskian lyricism combined with an underlying sense of unease. The central section features the woodwinds and is beautifully developed. At this point (19 years old) he still has trouble getting everything he wants from his basic material, but that would come later. However the development of this material into a cheerful finale is quite skillful. Also from 1875 is the Adagio in C-major. This is a lyrical work of great songfulness, with intimations of future vocal pieces. Tchaikovsky and Mozart hang over it to a degree, but its sheer beauty is the composer’s own. Why he would not want to publish it is a mystery.

Five years later Taneyev’s status as a mature composer was already assured enough for him to be asked to write the Cantata on Pushkin’s “Exegi Monumentum”. This is a setting of the first two verses of the poem of that name and was written for the unveiling of the Pushkin Monument in Moscow. It is quite simple, but evocative of the poet’s themes of the impermanence of political life when contrasted with the permanence of art. It has some beautiful polyphony and orchestration. Two years later Taneyev wrote a much large work that is one of his very few with a folk basis. The Overture on a Russian Theme takes the composer’s usual compositional method of developing segments of one theme and applies it to a theme from a folk collection compiled by Rimsky-Korsakov. The entire theme itself is hardly heard at all, but parts of it constantly succeed each other in a variety of different moods, ranging from the dramatic to the lyrical. The woodwinds are skillfully used throughout—a frequent feature of the composer’s works. While the slower middle section gets a little too involved, it is succeeded by an excellent sequential passage on strings that leads to the finale—a glorification of the original theme. This work compares well with similar pieces by the composer’s contemporaries and should be better known.

The Canzona and the Oresteia works were published by Taneyev and have been popular in Russia ever since. The Canzona is one of the composer’s few concerted works and is both virtuosic and tender with a middle section reminiscent of the clarinet works of Weber. The wistful end could only be Taneyev…Taneyev arranged the piece for cello and piano and it has been recorded in this form several times, including by Rostropovich (see review).

Soon after beginning The Oresteia, his only opera, the composer started turning the material into a symphonic poem, which he published as a separate work, and then went on to compose the full opera, premiered five years or so after the symphonic poem. The poem is based on five themes representing various aspects of the Aeschylus play and the exposition of the themes is extremely dramatic. The composer later occasionally gets carried away by the violence of the music for the Furies, but those sections representing the feelings of Orestes are always well done. This leads to the highlight of the piece—the judgment that Orestes is innocent of matricide by Athena and the Areopagus and the final apotheosis of Athenian justice. The major competition for Sanderling in this piece is provided by Vladimir Ashkenazy and Neeme Järvi. I found Sanderling more gripping than Ashkenazy and with a better sense of the overall work. With Järvi there is slightly more excitement and a slightly better recording, but Sanderling has the cost advantage.

The Act 3 Entr’acte from the opera proper concerns Orestes’ journey to Apollo’s temple at Delphi to find out how to rid himself of the Furies. The main musical element here is Apollo’s shimmering theme as he banishes the Furies from his temple and sends Orestes to Athens for his eventual pardon. This section shows a tighter development than the appearance of the same material in the symphonic poem…

The brass and percussion are exemplary in the Oresteia poem and the woodwinds are a highlight in almost every piece…a superior disc. There are also exemplary notes by Anastasia Belina. One can have no hesitation in recommending this disc not only to Taneyev lovers, but as an example of the range of creativity of a composer still far from receiving his due in the general history of music.

Robert R. Reilly, October 2009

The very dramatic [Oresteya] Overture begins with double basses digging in as deeply as the deepest Russian basses you have ever heard. This is a thrilling, fantastic piece that easily explains Tchaikovsky’s high praise of Taneyev’s music and increases my eagerness to hear the whole opera. I am not familiar with the Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra, but under conductor Thomas Sanderling, they play this music to the hilt. No aficionado of Russian music should miss this.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, August 2009

Taneyev may not be high on most people’s list of 19th-century Russian composers but that could change as this Naxos series progresses. The First and Third symphonies with the Novosibirsk orchestra under Thomas Sanderling—son of the illustrious Kurt—certainly impressed me (8.570336) and, if anything, this new release has heightened my admiration for composer and orchestra alike.

Taneyev’s only opera, based on Aeschylus’s Oresteia, was recorded by DG and Olympia some time ago, but neither version is in the current catalogue. Curiously, the overture was composed and performed several years before the opera was completed. It’s a substantial piece in its own right, lasting around 20 minutes, and listeners may be forgiven for thinking they’ve stumbled on a little-known piece of Wagner or Richard Strauss. That said, this is more than musical mimicry, revealing a rich supply of motile Russian melodies and a symphonic sweep that wouldn’t have disgraced Taneyev’s great friend and mentor, Tchaikovsky. From that first Stygian string theme through to its restrained finale this overture is full of lovely touches; and even though there is a whiff of Scriabin in those aromatic harmonies Sanderling ensures they never cloy or overwhelm the senses.

Arguably the Act III Entr’acte is even more seductive—it certainly has a Straussian amplitude—which is probably why this piece was so popular during the composer’s lifetime. I was particularly struck by the sheer passion and unanimity of the playing and Sanderling’s firm, clear-eyed view of the score. The recording is just as satisfying, deep when it needs to be and suitably grand in the splendid climaxes. Indeed, any misgivings I might have had about this band and their conductor simply evaporated at this point.

How very different that all is to the delectable Adagio in C major, written during the composer’s final year at the Moscow Conservatory. As Anastasia Belina points out in her liner notes, much of Taneyev’s youthful work was only discovered years later. The Adagio, published in 1950, is a real gem, especially when it’s played with such elegance and refinement. And how different again is the Overture on a Russian Theme, written for the All-Russian Art and Trade Exhibition of 1882. Taneyev makes use of authentic Russian songs—as collected by Rimsky-Korsakov—forging them into a piece that has all the cut and thrust of a Cossack sword. It’s virile stuff, guaranteed to please those who like their Russians to strut and swagger.

The style of the cantata, written for the opening of the Pushkin Memorial in Moscow, is echoed in the celebratory music of post-revolutionary Russia, used to great effect by the likes of Prokofiev and Shostakovich. That’s not to suggest this is merely a patriotic role-pleaser, because it isn’t; it may be just 64 bars long but it has all the passion and splendour of those great choral numbers in Alexander Nevsky. As for the Canzona it’s a frothy little confection, complemented by the bright-toned playing of clarinettist Stanislav Yankovsky. A slight piece, perhaps, but enjoyable none the less.

The Overture in D minor, like the Adagio, is an early work and this time it shows. It has a bluff quality—and a tendency to outstay its welcome—that the other pieces in this collection manage to avoid. (I wonder if other listeners can hear Brahms in this music?) Still, one mildly disappointing piece out of seven isn’t bad, and it certainly isn’t enough to dilute my enthusiasm for this disc as a whole. Factor in committed playing and full-blooded sound and you have one of the year’s most entertaining releases so far.

Go on, treat yourself.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, July 2009


The Naxos disc is a treasure-trove of rare Taneyev curiosities that include five of his youthful works composed before he turned twenty-six. The earliest of these, a lovely adagio for small orchestra and a tuneful overture (in D minor), date from 1875. They’re highly accomplished student works that show the influence of his good friend and teacher Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The overture won him a gold medal in composition at the Moscow Conservatory, and in retrospect could be considered a harbinger of the four magnificent symphonies he would eventually produce.

The other three early works are his Cantata on Pushkin’s “Exegi Monumentum” (1880), Overture on a Russian (Folk) Theme (1882) and Canzona for Clarinet and Strings (1883). Only lasting about five minutes, there’s a depth of expression and sincerity about the cantata that belies the fact Taneyev was only twenty-four when he wrote it. The overture is a curiosity, considering Taneyev, unlike most other Russian composers of his time, seldom used folk material in his compositions. The theme, taken from a collection of one hundred Russian folk songs compiled by Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908), is subjected to a series of masterful manipulations. Some of these involve sophisticated counterpoint very much in keeping with Taneyev’s reputation as Russia’s reigning expert in that discipline.

The disc is filled out with the overture and an entr’acte from his only opera Oresteia (1894). Like the opening of Simonsen’s (1889–1947) Hellas Symphony (No. 2, 1921) it’s based on Aeschylus’ surviving trilogy of tragedies, and is accordingly in three parts, “Agamemnon,” “The Choephorae” and “The Eumenides.” The overture, which was completed and premièred five years before the opera was finished, contains most of the major leitmotifs. It could be considered a twenty-minute tone poem synthesizing all the important elements of the stage work, and in that respect it’s about as close to program music as this composer ever gets. It ranks with Taneyev’s finest achievements, and represents a high point in Russian romantic symphonic literature.

The entr’acte, The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, introduces the second scene of “The Eumenides.” It’s five minutes of the most gorgeous Russian orchestral music you could ever hope to hear! Yes, there are Wagnerian overtones, but Slavic melodic elements are present, and there’s some solo harp work that makes one wonder if Sergei knew Smetana’s (1824–1884) Vysehrad from Má Vlast (1872–79).

The conductor on the Naxos disc is Thomas Sanderling, the son of Kurt Sanderling (b. 1912), who was one of the Leningrad (now known as St. Petersberg) Philharmonic Orchestra’s greatest conductors. Tom certainly seems to be following in his father’s footsteps because the performances he elicits from the Novosibirsk State Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Academic Symphony Orchestra are superb. A special round of applause should go to clarinetist Stanislav Jankovsky for his accomplished solo work in the Canzona.

The recordings on the Naxos CD are demonstration quality. The soundstage is perfectly appointed and in a warm acoustic. The orchestra is very natural sounding, and even the chorus in the cantata is quite lifelike, which is a rarity on conventional CDs.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, July 2009

Thomas Sanderling bears us gifts (rec. 1–15 September 2007) from the relatively unknown orchestral works of Sergey Taneyev (1856–1915), whose musical memory endures mostly in his occasional symphony or the Concert-Suite for Violin and Orchestra. If nothing else, these new additions to the Taneyev recorded legacy indicate the scope of Taneyev’s academic studies, which open with his absorption of the Aeschylean tragedy of the House of Atreus.  Taneyev’s huge overture (1888) for his 1894 opera embraces the many ‘leitmotifs’ of the plot—and along Wagnerian lines—of betrayal, infanticide, inadvertent cannibalism, matricide, divine vengeance and ultimate vindication. Rather programmatic in execution, the Overture exhibits Taneyev’s mastery of various classical forms—canon, fugue, stretti, and the entire gamut of orchestral colors, especially harp figuration. Tchaikovsky himself led the premier of this monumental piece in 1889. The last three minutes or so depict the appearance of Apollo in shimmering echoes of Lohengrin to forgive Orestes and release him from the Furies’ torments. The Entr’acte from Act III presides over Orestes’ sojourn to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, where the harp definitely rules. Once again, the Wagnerian influence can be felt, with massive chords from Tannhauser or Goetterdaemmerung. The colors, however, remain purely Russian-old-style, so it little wonder that Rimsky-Korsakov favored this piece in his own concerts.

Taneyev’s lovely Adagio in C Major (1875) for small orchestra derives from his student days, when imitating the lyric gift of Tchaikovsky weighed heavily.  Suppressed by Taneyev, the score came to light in 1950.  If you asked me to ‘name the source of the tune,’ I’d hazard Glinka. From the same Moscow Conservatory period comes the Canzona for Clarinet and Strings (pub. 1883), a rare concertante piece by Taneyev. A chromatic melody from the orchestra finds a reply in the solo clarinet, and they engage in a flowing idyll that might have influenced Finzi. Solo Stanislav Yankovsky makes several fine points in this brief piece, not the least is a smooth tone that would naturally lend itself to Mozart. In 1880 Taneyev composed his cantata set to the first two verses of Pushkin’s Exegi Monumentum (“I have built one monument to myself”) to be played at the unveiling of a Pushkin memorial at which significant writers like Dostoievsky and Turgenev attended. In gorgeously-recorded E Major, the piece adheres to a four-part chordal texture, though some counterpoint occurs in the brief middle section: the whole lasts only 64 bars. With drums, trumpets, and a soaring melodic line, the piece celebrates Pushkin’s orphic nature, that in his “sacred lyre” of art looms immortality.

In 1882 Taneyev received a commission from Nikolay Gubert, head of the Moscow Conservatory, to compose a piece for the All-Russian Trade Exhibition that would demonstrate Russian harmony and counterpoint. The Overture in C Major on a Russian Theme is the result, the main tune selected from the Rimsky-Korsakov collection of 100 Russian Folk Songs, particularly “Beyond the River Dar’ya.” At several points, the dramatic character of the piece resembles aspects of Beethoven and Rimsky-Korsakov’s own Russian Easter Overture or his “magical” opera overtures. The main theme undergoes fragmentation for polyphonic and sonata-form display, though a lovely folk-song aria emerges in the manner of Tchaikovsky, followed by liturgical chords and thumping accompaniment in strings and tympani. This piece only found publication in 1948, but it deserves a more popular fate, casting a warm glow, especially here, from a Siberian ensemble whose conductor raises national passions.

The Overture in D Minor (1875) stands as Taneyev’s graduation piece from the Moscow Conservatory. The opening notes, chromatic and furrowed with dark thoughts, haunt the entire composition, a true child of its musical mentor, Tchaikovsky, though the gifted orchestration and variation on one rhythmic impulse resembles more of Borodin. The blazoning of this powerful overture shook me and my audio system, so it with a sense of disbelief that I note that this effective score had been suppressed until 1955.

James Leonard, June 2009

For admirers of the symphonic music of Sergey Taneyev, this 2009 Naxos disc featuring seven of his single-movement orchestral works will be welcome.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2009

It was Sergey Taneyev’s pupils, Rachmaninov, Gliere, Scriabin, and their new generation of Russian compatriots, whose highly coloured symphonic music sealed his fate as a composer. His works had been inhabited by long flowing melodic invention, free from the angst and rhetoric of his mentor, Tchaikovsky.The Overture in D minor was his graduation piece that came from the nineteen-year-old, a score where you expect that the underlying feel of drama will eventually erupt, but instead there are many musical hills but the promise of a mountain never emerges. Fourteen years later came his one and only opera, Oresteia, a dark story of murder and adultery, Taneyev painting that picture in an overture that includes major thematic material from the opera. It brings a rather episodic nature to the piece, though its cumulative effect is a multi-coloured score whose neglect is regrettable. Seven years earlier, in 1882, he was asked to write an Overture on a Russian Theme for an art exhibition. Modestly successful, he was to revise it a little later, though it remained unpublished during his lifetime. He was not a nationalist composer, and, after stating the folk song at the opening, he works with the material to compose a score more Germanic than Russian. The disc is completed with further orchestral extracts from Oresteia; the Adagio in C; a very short Cantata—sung by the Novosibirsk State Philharmonic Chamber Choir—and a Canzona dating from 1883. Novosibirsk has one of the few provincial orchestras to survive the carnage following the fall of the Soviet Union, and is well able to meet the highly-charged moments. More intrinsically refined than we hear from Moscow ensembles, the  conductor, Thomas Sanderling, shows a warm sympathy towards Taneyev  and the recording from the West Siberian Radio is good.

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