A survey of Taneyev’s chamber music with piano unearths several mighty treasures of earnest power and learned style. 

TANEYEV: Chamber Music with Piano =  Piano Quartet in E Major, Op. 20; Piano Trio in D Major, Op. 22; Violin Sonata in a; Piano Quintet in g, Op. 30 – Solisti dell’Officina Musicale – Aevea AE15004005 (2 CDs), 85:30, 72:03 (10/9/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded 21-25 November 2013, these chamber works display the significant talent of Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915), whom some consider to be Tchaikovsky’s natural successor, both as composer and pedagogue. The Piano Quartet (1907) provides a good example of Taneyev’s Romantic style, having been conceived before Taneyev’s departure from the Moscow Conservatory in 1905. The four soloists – Alessandro Deljavan, piano; Daniela Cammarano, violin; Paolo Castellitto, viola; and Andrea Agostinelli, cello – inject a direct energy into the music, the first movement’s offering a robustly expansive Allegro brillante that seems less Russian than lyrically ornamental and militant in the manner of Mendelssohn. Clear period breaks mark the various aspects of Taneyev’s conception of sonata-form.  The main interest lies in the keyboard part, which displays liquid runs and a purring accompaniment to the soaring expressiveness – nostalgic, akin to compatriots Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov – of the violin and cello. In a more typical Russian moment of fervor, the coda builds to a rousing peroration.

The Adagio piu tosto largo is set in C Major. The piano provides a steady pulse in quarter notes that support a salon melody in the violin that spreads to the other strings in a polyphonic mix. What begins as a multi-colored meditation will break into an agitated, galloping second section, similar to the structure of the first movement. The major motif here – a series of rippling, cascading scales in the keyboard – abates in order to return to the ternary form and the opening meditation. A burst of rapture emerges, a kind of “Hollywood” love theme of no small merit. The work concludes with an epic-scale last movement, Allegro molto, in e minor. Taneyev’s intent here means to display his thorough grounding in canon and counterpoint. Even in brisk filigree, Taneyev depends on close imitation in the various parts, producing a sonic patina close to that of Cesar Franck. The bulk of the movement, despite its lyrical interludes, elicits a more academic than passionate sensibility, but the writing and the instrumental balance prove consistently effective over the eighteen minutes for this grand demonstration of compositional prowess.

Taneyev immediately alludes to Tchaikovsky’s G Major Piano Concerto, Op. 44 at the opening of the 1908 Piano Trio in D, which soon allots considerable melodic tissue to the cello, which leads off a series of intimate dialogues. This first movement, Allegro, projects declamatory power and effective part writing, but rarely does the romantic spark catch memorable fire. The sonata-form, along with Taneyev’s penchant for polyphony, proves apt for a series of evocative gestures, but our sense of dramatic closure seems thwarted.  The potent, even demonic, impulse of the first movement now invests the tense Allegro molto, wherein the cello drives the bristling tissue. We have a theme and variations much in the multifarious, Tchaikovsky color mode, with the keyboard’s part having become virtuosic and emboldened. We recall that Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto features a solo piano trio as an integral part of its second movement. Taneyev, akin to Tchaikovsky conceives his third movement Andante espressivo as an elegy.  Each stringed instrument shares the melody, while the piano interrupts in reflective gestures. Here, Taneyev nods to Beethoven, using a cadence in the violin to tie this movement to the Allegro con brio finale. The music proves sprightly, and the sudden appearance of a piano cadenza adds another moment of colorful drama. 

Daniela Cammarano and Alessandro Deljavan perform Taneyev’s 1911 Violin Sonata, a classically conceived work in four movements in the early Beethoven tradition. The declamatory first subject of the opening Allegro in dotted rhythm yields to a sweetly melancholic tune that allows the keyboard part some suave filigree. Although at moments adventurous harmonically, the vast proportion of the movement remains within conservative, tonal syntax. A chorale motif on the piano opens the Adagio cantabile, the basis for a series of variations in the lyrical manner of Schubert. The Menuetto: Allegretto has an “in the olden style” character of a contrapuntal Baroque dance, much in the Scarlatti sonority.  The Allegro ma non troppo finale reveals a dual personality: first, the rhythmic and dynamic impulses and layering, the stretti, all testify to Taneyev’s admiration for J.S. Bach. What seems like a rondo theme suddenly, by virtue of a shift into median harmony, takes us into F Major with intertwined fifth and sixth chords to establish the Romantic ethos behind this piece. Taneyev then invokes his fondness for Franck by “cyclically” invoking themes from the previous movements, ending the work in quiet closure.

Taneyev’s Piano Quintet in g minor, Op. 30 (1911) combines his polyphonic nature with his compulsion for classical form. Essentially, Taneyev pits the two sonic elements – string quartet and piano – against each other, rather contentiously. The occasional harmonization of the forces proves elegant and richly sonorous, a cross between Franck and Brahms, just as Taneyev tries to reconcile his Bach influences with his Russian heritage. The first movement is huge, demanding twenty minutes’ playing time. Slow and declamatory motifs evolve into an Allegro patetico of considerable, intricately contrapuntal scale. More than one commentator notes the chromatic progressions in this movement as passing beyond traditional harmony into the audacious syntax of fellow-traveler Scriabin.

An air of mockery defines the Scherzo: Presto, which utilizes a Beethoven’s Fifth motif in bouncing string staccatos and in the keyboard, gruff and then diaphanously virtuosic. The dry humor continues until a lovely Trio section, a pear amidst the wry, swirling snippets of rhythm that mark a dervishly clever piece of writing. The ensuing Largo – an ostinato, stately tune in unison that inspires variations – sells this work, especially to those who have held reservations about Taneyev’s distinct ability to create lovely, flowing musical lines. The last movement, Allegro vivace, manifests a turbulence from the outset that convinces us that we have missed anything like a preparation for this storm of emotion. The keyboard and strings somehow cooperate to a grand Moderato maestoso in hyperbolic passionate figures. This climax, serves, moreover, as the beginning of an extended coda that will conclude in a sunny G Major. The demands made upon keyboardist Agostinelli and us, the listeners, have been many but in the nature of revealing to us a monumental chamber work too long neglected.

—Gary Lemco