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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, September 2010

Key, I think, to appreciating the music of Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev (1856–1915) is an understanding of the deep strain of musical conservatism that informs his works. A student of Nikolai Rubinstein and then Tchaikovsky, he turned a deaf ear to his fellow Russian nationalists, “The Mighty Handful,” choosing instead to immerse himself in the study of strict counterpoint and fugue. His strong classical bent and faithfulness to formal procedures did not endear him to his peers, but criticism and condescension cut both ways. Few were spared his unkind words: Borodin was “a clever dilettante,” and Mussorgsky made him laugh. But Taneyev’s barbs were not without merit. He was “a scholar of massive erudition,” who devoured books on history, the sciences, mathematics, and philosophy, and he regarded many of the works of his compatriots, not entirely without just cause in some cases, as the products of amateurs. The irony is that the “amateurs,” though often weak in form and craft—Rimsky-Korsakov being the exception that Taneyev admired—were often inspired to lofty musical heights, while Taneyev, unrivaled in craftsmanship and technique, was rarely visited by an original creative thought.

His Symphony No. 2 is heard here in an edition by Vladimir Blok, first performed in 1977. Taneyev began work on the piece in 1875 while still a student at the Moscow Conservatory, but gave up on it after sketching its intended finale. As it stands, the symphony is in three movements, an Introduction and Allegro, an Andante, and an Allegro. Whether Taneyev would have added a scherzo movement either before or after the Andante can’t be known. Just a year earlier he had completed a full four-movement symphony, the No. 1 in E Minor, so it could only have been Rubinstein’s criticism of the new score and Taneyev’s own misgivings about it that led him to abandon the effort despite Tchaikovsky’s attempt to talk him out of it.

It’s both easy and difficult to describe this music: easy because it’s a beautiful, lavishly orchestrated, lushly romantic work in the style, according to note author Anastasia Belina, of “Western European symphonic tradition”; but difficult because it’s like nothing you would expect to hear from this time, this place, and this cultural environment. The Tchaikovsky influence is obvious, but most budding young composers studying under a great master take what they can and then go forward with it on their own. In Taneyev’s case, it’s as if he took what he could from Tchaikovsky and then went backwards with it. The main theme of the Andante, for example, recalls Handel, one of Taneyev’s favorite composers. While Taneyev was still struggling with this B-Major Symphony in 1878, Tchaikovsky was completing work on his F-Minor Symphony (the No. 4), an explosion of creative genius light years ahead of anything Taneyev could have imagined. If Taneyev’s Second Symphony can be compared to anything, it would probably be to the symphonies of his teacher’s more famous brother, Anton Rubinstein.

Twenty years later, in 1898, Taneyev completed his fourth and last symphony, the No. 4 in C Minor, dedicating it to Glazunov, who conducted its premiere in St. Petersburg that same year. Considered by many to be Taneyev’s finest orchestral work, the symphony earned him, inaptly, I think, the nickname of “the Russian Brahms.” There may be one or two passages here and there that waft a whiff of Brahms, like the ending of the first movement that is reminiscent of the concluding measures of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. But there are other passages that resemble sound bites from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and still others that recall the symphonies of Kalinnikov and Borodin, though with Taneyev’s surer hand at counterpoint and formal development. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, I suppose, what other composers’ music Taneyev’s may call to mind, for you can’t not love this symphony if you love big, full-hearted, passionate Romantic score...I would have to say that in an A-B comparison between Sanderling’s performances of the Second and Fourth Symphonies and Polyansky’s with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra on Chandos in the same coupling, I find Sanderling’s slightly slower tempos not “soporific” but alluringly caressed; and far from playing in a “stodgy fashion,” the Novosibirsk forces sound more nimble and responsive to me than the Russian State band under Polyansky...I can give the new Naxos an unconditional recommendation

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, June 2010

With this disc Naxos complete yet another symphony cycle and a valuable one at that in that it includes the rarest of the four Taneyev Symphonies as well as his best known. Sergey Taneyev is best known through his association first as a pupil of and later as editor/orchestrator of Tchaikovsky’s late works in particular the Op. 79 Andante & Finale for piano and orchestra and his treatment of themes from the Fantasy Overture—Romeo and Juliet as a conjectural operatic love duet. His original orchestral masterpieces are deemed to be the opera Oresteia and the Symphony No. 4 recorded here. A notoriously slow worker the later symphony bears the op. number 12 but dates from a full twenty years after the earlier student work. The earlier symphony is in some ways a ‘problem’ work in that Taneyev never completed it despite the best endeavours of Tchaikovsky to persuade him of its merits. What we have therefore is the two outer movements complete and orchestrated by Taneyev with a central Andante orchestrated in 1977 by Vladimir Blok—he edited the other two movements for performance too. The total absence of any material for a Scherzo has resulted in a rather lop-sided three movement work but I for one share Tchaikovsky’s enthusiasm and fail to understand the disdain shown by Nikolay Rubinstein when conducting the opening movement. Tchaikovsky counselled Taneyev not to follow Rubinstein’s lead and dismiss the work given Rubinstein’s history of initial dismissal followed by admiring praise—Tchaikovsky’s own Piano Concerto No. 1 receiving just such a volte-face judgment.

I am sure that part of the older composer’s enthusiasm for his student’s work is that he heard in it some of his own early strivings for symphonic form. Just as I have always loved Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 ‘Winter Daydreams’ this piece is choc full of wonderful Russian lyrical ardour. If you like the Glazunov of the Symphonies 5 or 6 you will enjoy this. Taneyev uses musical sequences in much the same way as Tchaikovsky and the development of the movement from brooding dark-hued introduction to passionate long-limbed melody breathes much the same air without being a slavish copy. Interestingly Taneyev became increasingly fixated on the technical structural components and the science of composition. His fastidiousness was precisely the quality that Tchaikovsky admired but from my point of view this element of his craft often threatened to overwhelm the more spontaneous lyrical voice in his music. Which is why I suspect he abandoned his Symphony No. 2 viewing it as fatally flawed in musically structural terms. But it is that spontaneous bubbling quality here is precisely why I prefer it to some of his other more stilted compositions; recently I reviewed his cantata Ioann Damaskin and frankly found much of the ‘academic’ contrapuntal writing as admirable as it was uninspiring. For sure though this is a student work, perhaps some of the passages in the extended first movement are over-worked and there are a couple of instrumental mis-judgements; the piccolo doubles an awful lot of woodwind lines to rather piercing effect. Overall the orchestration feels slightly thick which sounds like a function of the actual score rather than the performance or recording which is clear and bright. Conversely he makes some mature and effective choices. I particularly like the way the movement returns to the gloom of the opening at its close; no triumphal peroration here. More to the point the movement, and indeed the whole work, contains some ear-ticklingly memorable melodies. Call me a person of simple pleasures but I would often trade a ream of well crafted scores for a good tune! Editor Blok has skilfully maintained the sound-world into the central movement which flows with an easy lyrical grace. Again Taneyev shows compositional maturity in the way he creates themes that are able to unfold and develop over an extended time-frame. In this movement he prefers step-wise melodies much in the style of Rachmaninoff if lacking the latter’s ability to imbue such melodies with emotional weight and harmonic interest.

Throughout this disc the Novosibirsk orchestra prove to be really very good. The strings speak with warmth and unanimity and the woodwind have real character. Try the mournful clarinet solo in the slow movement [track 2 3:40ish]—for sure there is an unmistakably Slavic edge to the sound—which I like—but the phrasing and musicality is first rate. Likewise the brass supply attack and brilliance when required while the horns are both heroic and warm in the best Russian traditions. Conductor Thomas Sanderling seems more engaged with the music than he was in the first disc in this series which I found somewhat leaden at points. Indeed every department appears to have upped their game, the engineering is some of the best I have heard from Naxos/Russian sources; well balanced and clear but revealing the personality of the orchestra at the same time. If there is a slight absence of lower frequencies I suspect this is a function of the recording venue rather than the engineering.

The absence of the third movement is an undoubted blow and the structural flaws become most apparent in the Finale which is both the shortest and musically least interesting movement suffering most from predictable treatment/development of the material and a rather hollow and bombastic coda. However, taken in the spirit of a youthful work it is hard not to be charmed by the piece and convinced by the quality of the performance.

Moving onto the Symphony No. 4 the compositional gap of twenty years becomes clearer, although whether to the total benefit of the music will depend on the outlook of individual listeners I imagine. Taneyev dives straight into the musical argument and there is a stern rigour here that displaces the melodic flood of the earlier work. It is hard not to come to the conclusion that Taneyev has shaped/adapted his melodies here to allow greater manipulation of them in the greater musical scheme. Hence, the appealing second subject in the low strings turns back in on itself instead of ‘blossoming’ in the way that a similar melodic conception serving the same structural function does in say Kalinnikov’s Symphony No. 1. Kalinnikov’s problem is knowing what to do with such a good tune having written it! Again all credit to the commitment and skill of the orchestra here but the movement suffers from a lack of melodic memorability and it is hard not to come to the conclusion that Taneyev’s lack of enduring fame is because of his sacrifice of melody for form. Along the way much nationalistic character has been lost too. For sure there is more than a tinge of Russian melancholy to many of his melodic shapes but he relies far less than Tchaikovsky on folk-melody, whether actual or pastiched. The second movement Adagio builds to an impassioned and far from unimpressive climax yet still there is a check to the emotion that is ultimately frustrating. I am sure I am not alone in that much of the pleasure I derive from Russian nationalist and Soviet composers is the ‘laying bare’ of emotion; you either revel in it or are revolted by such display. Well I’m shamelessly in the former camp and with Taneyev I can’t help but feel he’s too concerned with the craft. The third movement Scherzo is another case in point. Everything fits together and the music chatters and scurries initially before relaxing into a more lyrical central section just as it should. Interesting to note his progress as an orchestrator—there are none of the spurious doublings which muddied the textures in the earlier work. In the best sense of the term this third movement is an excellent example of his craft. Again the performance of the Novosibirsk players is all one could wish for—neat and alert. This continues into the Finale. I like the way the strings dig into their G strings for the one of their ‘big’ tunes. The percussion Taneyev adds for this movement is rather too prominent—particularly a zealous but dull side-drum part. For the final molto maestoso section Taneyev brings back material from the other movements…This Naxos disc represents exceptional value and if Taneyev is the composer you are interested in the Symphony No. 2 is far more valuable than the speculative Romeo and Juliet, fascinating and appealing though it is. This is the fourth Taneyev/Sanderling disc from Naxos and in repertoire terms I would say it is the best place for newcomers to this composer to start…Despite being neither major or even particularly important in the pantheon of Russian music it receives a convincing and colourful performance here that will bring pleasure to those interested in the byways of 19th century Russian symphonic repertoire., 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.

Jim Leonard, May 2010

Joining Thomas Sanderling and the Novosibirsk Academic Symphony Orchestra’s coupling of Taneyev’s First and Third symphonies is this coupling of the Russian fin de siècle composer’s Second and Fourth symphonies by the same forces. As before, Sanderling is clearly committed and puts his formidable technical and interpretive skills at the service of the music. And as before, the Novosibirsk musicians are manifestly giving their all to the music…The rarely played or recorded Second sounds better here than one might have thought while the more often performed Fourth, beyond all argument Taneyev’s greatest achievement in the form, comes off as powerfully shaped and persuasively argued. Naxos’ digital sound is still rich, deep, and clear.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

The music of Sergey Taneyev has suffered the unkind fate of so many who have composed in the style of a previous generation. Thankfully there are a few record companies who are delving back into this little-known composer who have revived interest in the long-forgotten scores of a musician whose pupils included Rachmaninov, Gliere and Scriabin. He was twenty-two when he began work on the Second Symphony, but despite Tchaikovsky’s encouragement he completed only the opening movement and finale in a full score, the scherzo became lost and the slow movement never orchestrated. True the opening ‘Introduction’ is a little overlong, but the following allegro section would be highly thought of had it been by Tchaikovsky. It is not difficult to see why he went no further with the andante, as it has no great thematic input. That is sad as the finale alone could have demanded a place in the concert repertoire. Vladimir Blok has worked on its completion, and maybe someone else could in the future give an alternative view. By contrast the Fourth Symphony, from 1898, is from his maturity though stylistically it had advanced little. The opening movement is a powerful statement; the adagio enjoys a greater degree of impact, while the scherzo is light and frothy to contrast with a bold and substantial finale. In many ways it is Germanic rather than Russian, his sense of textures created by immaculately orchestration. The Novosibirsk Academic Symphony, and the conductor, Thomas Sanderling, have already given us the First and Third symphonies, and in reviewing the disc I commented that they are more refined in quality than we hear in most other Russian orchestras. The recording from the West Siberian Radio is very good, and the release is much recommended.

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