TANEYEV: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 4 = Quartet No. 9; Quartet No. 6 – Carpe Diem String Q. – Naxos

The Carpe Diem String Quartet extends its gratifying traversal of Sergey Taneyev’s chamber music.

TANEYEV:  Complete String Quartets, Vol. 4 = Quartet No. 9 in A Major; Quartet No. 6 in B-flat Major, Op. 19 – Carpe Diem String Quartet – Naxos 8.573470, 65:42 (12/11/15) ****:

The Carpe Diem String Quartet – Charles Wetherbee and Amy Galluzzo, violins;  Korina Fujiwara, viola; Carol Ou, cello – continue (rec. December 2013 – May 2014) their survey of the quartets of Sergey Taneyev (1856-1915), whom Tchaikovsky referred to as “the Russian Bach” in homage to Taneyev’s mastery of polyphonic procedures.  No less evident, Taneyev’s control of his materials in sonata-form makes him an outstanding exponent of Classical style. From the outset of the 1883 Quartet No. 9 in A Major, we feel the spirit of Tchaikovsky behind the lush harmonizations of melodies in Russian folk idioms, set in A Major and E Major. Charles Wetherbee’s first violin remains quite active, as does Ms. Ou’s cello, which imparts the main theme in an affecting a minor to begin the development section.

The key of E Major opens the Andante movement, a 6/8 tender lullaby whose middle section modulates to c-sharp minor, permitting violaist Korine Fujiwara her moments in the spotlight. Each of the quartet members has his lyrical, vocal contribution in this outstanding moment in Russian lyrical chamber music literature. The highlight of the work lies in its f-sharp minor Scherzo whose Trio section is set in tonic major.  This hearty movement resonates with Slavic – better, Slavonic – impulses that Dvorak would be happy claim as his own. Tchaikovsky had remarked favorably on this movement. Tremolos and vibrant, jabbing motions filter throughout the balanced sonorities of the four instruments.  The Trio section occasionally imitates the sound of a village harmonium. The Allegro giocoso finale received less critical approval from Tchaikovsky, despite its effective syncopations that drive a spirited, rustic rondo. Heavy accents in the melodic line often suggest that Taneyev knew the music of Smetana. The middle section subdues the revel somewhat, offering repose in D Major.

Taneyev wrote eleven string quartets, but their publication suffered a scattered history, with those un-numbered, of which there were five, found publication in 1952. Three completed quartets were assigned misleading numbers 7-9, while those which had opus numbers held forth as Nos. 1-6. The No. 6 in B-flat Major (1905) became Taneyev’s last completed string quartet.  Taneyev indulges in a cyclical mode here, utilizing early themes in the later movements. The intervals of the rising third and falling seventh that appear in the opening Allegro giusto permeate the entire work. Taneyev’s modulations become wayward and adventurous, taking his second theme into the distant world of G-flat Major, with the main theme’s being inverted.  Some of the passing dissonances and transitions reveal the influence of Beethoven. The gestures became impassioned in the late pages, especially for the low instruments against the first violin, and the effect could be mistaken for Brahms. Cellist Ou plays under a high pedal point that concludes the movement softly.

The Adagio serioso in g minor derives its melodic kernel directly from inversion of the first movement theme, here introspectively passionate. The music assumes a dark, martial character, with strong colors from the viola. The middle section modulates into the major mode, but the gravity of the occasion does not subside. The music has become dissonant and aggrieved, with intense dialogues between first violin and cello. A sudden halt, and then, once more, the funereal pace resumes with an ardent viola line guiding the solemn path. The music assumes the quality of a chorale or dark dirge, with moments of lyrical fragments’ trying to illuminate a tearful progression.  Taneyev gives us a Giga: Vivace third movement in G Major, a virtuosic, jabbing series of 6/8 motions in the Mendelssohn spirit, filled with pizzicato and drone effects. The middle section breaks down the octaves so individual instruments can sing fragments in b minor. The quiet coda takes us to the Allegro moderato finale, in which the slow music gradually accelerates into Allegro vivace, revealing the initial theme of movement one.  A scherzando appears in the key of G of the middle movements. When the initial tune reappears, it comes forth Presto so as to provide closure to a most beguiling combination of feeling and form.

—Gary Lemco

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