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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

David Jacobsen
American Record Guide, September 2011

This is important music to know.

Carpe Diem is…exceptional and deserve praise for an admirable and electrifying go at Taneyev. They have flawless technique and appropriate feeling.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, May 2011

It’s taken almost four years, but here’s the second installment in Naxos’ ongoing survey devoted to Russian composer Sergey Taneyev’s (1856–1915) nine completed string quartets. And once again a word of explanation is in order about their currently accepted numbering, which is based on when they were published rather than written.

Quartets seven through nine, as they’re known today, were actually written before one through six. Consequently their chronological order is seven, eight, nine, one, two, three, four, five and six. In hopes of clarifying this issue, the order and year in which Taneyev composed a given quartet will be indicated in parenthesis after its title.

A student of Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) and Nikolai Rubinstein (1835–1881), Taneyev’s academic credentials were impeccable. In that regard, he would become a master of counterpoint, and publish a highly regarded treatise on the subject. So it’s not surprising that discipline informs his works.

Granted he wasn’t the tunesmith some of his Russian contemporaries were, but his music has an organizational integrity second to none. Consequently his creations reflect Beethoven’s (1770–1827) preoccupation with structural perfection rather than Schubert’s (1797–1828) predilection for melody. His string quartets 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 four-movement second quartet (fifth, composed in 1894–95) opens with an allegro of such taut construction that it brings Beethoven’s late quartets to mind. Yet, despite its dispassionate structural rigor, there are some lovely melodic ideas with Slavic overtones.

The tension builds in the following scherzo, whose agitated outer sections seem loosely based on the Dies Irae, which would later became a preoccupation with his student Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943). They surround a delicate tuneful trio section, which anticipates the subdued mood of the coming adagio. This is based on an extended, chromatically stretched melody that despite a couple of angst-ridden episodes, achieves moments of great lyric beauty.

The frolicsome finale is a contrapuntal, modulatory playground where charming childlike ideas chase one another. Taneyev must have had a smile on his face when he composed this, particularly after penning a closing raspberry on the cello [track-4, beginning at 07:39] and final “so there” ending.

Written in solitude while visiting a monastery, the fourth quartet (seventh, composed in 1898–99) is his most emotionally fraught. It begins with a pathos-filled motif (PF) that will be the blastema from which the entire quartet will grow. The first of its four movements might best be described as a sonata-rhapsody with frequent allusions to PF. This is some of Sergey’s most progressive music.

The divertimento that’s next is light as a feather, and resembles those airy symphonic scherzos by Balakirev (1837–1910), Borodin (1833–1887) and Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908). It starts with a gently rocking melody (GR), and once again there are snatches of PF that serve as a unifying factor.

Bits of PF also introduce the following adagio. Made for the most part from a single chromatically inflected thematic idea, this is one of the composer’s most heartfelt movements.

The finale begins with PF, but soon turns animated with folkish massed chordal passages, which one could imagine as imitating some local village piper. The level of sophistication with which Taneyev develops his ideas is extraordinary, and so are the demands made on the players. Towards the end there are more hints of PF along with a lovely reminder of GR [track-8, beginning at 08:45]. And then the quartet concludes in a shower of sparks.

Once again the Carpe Diem quartet performs both works with exceptional sensitivity, attention to detail, and virtuosity to spare. As we noted before, when it comes to “Russian Soul” some may feel it’s not quite up to the Taneyev Quartet’s earlier traversal of these, but it far surpasses them in interpretive sophistication and technical ability. Let’s just hope the remaining volumes appear in a more timely manner.

As before, the recordings are very good but a bit on the dry side. However, this does serve to better differentiate all the subtleties of this intricately structured music.

MusicWeb International, April 2011

This is volume 2 of Naxos’s edition of Russian composer Sergey Taneyev’s complete (9) string quartets—volume 1, released in 2007, was reviewed here and here.

String quartets form an important part of Taneyev’s output, though their numbering is problematic. Only two movements of the first quartet were finished, then three complete works followed, before the ‘official’ no.1 was published as Taneyev’s op.4. After that, more came, thick and fast, including the two on this disc. No.6 was the last to receive an opus number (19), completed in 1905, after which Taneyev concentrated on other traditional chamber forms, until in 1911 he wrote a final string quartet, only to break off again after two movements.

In his article on the composer in the New Grove Dictionary, David Brown writes that Taneyev “was the antithesis of Glinka, for whereas the latter was possessed of a powerful and vivid imagination but was deficient in technique, Taneyev had little imaginative endowment but commanded a compositional skill unsurpassed by any Russian composer of his period.” Anyone listening to these two quartets is sure to agree with the latter notion immediately, but will equally be disinclined to accept the first sentiment, because this is music that positively bristles not just with technical expertise—they have the same undeniable air of perfect craftsmanship about them as the middle quartets of Beethoven—but with real imagination. Taneyev was a true intellectual—he counted Tolstoy and Rimsky-Korsakov among his closest friends, and was an ascetic—a rare Russian teetotaller!; but in these quartets there is much more than dry academicism or musical sobriety.

Following three movements of music that is by turn impassioned, intimate and lyrical, the allegro vigoroso finale of the Second Quartet abounds in unexpected virtuosity, with chromaticism layered masterfully upon modulation upon counterpoint upon harmonic twist and turn, all heading towards a delicious ending. The Fourth Quartet is a more soul-searching, dramatic work—more akin now to Beethoven’s late works, which are not in any way debased by comparison. To suggest that the composer of this quartet has “little imaginative endowment” is absurd—this is a profound work, from the chromatic intensity of the first movement, through the jerky elegance of the divertimento, the wistful heartache of the adagio, to the dark-roasted, surprisingly upbeat finale.

The genre-crossing tendencies of the Carpe Diem Quartet might not be to everyone’s liking, but there is little to fault in their musical taste or general musicianship on this disc. The sound quality is excellent, if slightly thick, the liner-notes fairly brief but informative.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

Rachmaninov, Glier and Scriabin were among the new generation of Russian composers who were indebted to Sergey Taneyev’s teaching. Yet it was their music that, even in his own lifetime, was to remove him from the concert repertoire. He in turn was a piano student of Nikolay Rubinstein and composition pupil of Tchaikovsky, and was to become the influential Director of the Moscow Conservatory. He wrote in a conservative style, his elegant scores far from the rough-hewn music of his contemporaries. The two string quartets here recorded date from 1894 and 1900, though stylistically they belong to a previous generation. Even the scherzo to the Second Quartet is sprightly but serious, while the following Adagio is a soulful statement, light arriving in a fast-moving finale. The Fifth is not greatly different in style, but it does have the benefit of a brilliant finale, while the scherzo is more outgoing. If all this seems to be damning with faint praise, I want to convey that Taneyev is a composer who satisfies but never causes a rush of adrenalin. The American-based Carpe Diem Quartet has made a study of the composer and are well attuned to his style. They certainly do not fall into the trap of injecting a vigour that isn’t there, but with technical skill they perform unhurried performances allowing the music to speak for itself. A relatively dry acoustic of a natural quality.

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