Tuesday, November 06, 2007


TANEYEV: String Quartets 1 and 3;
Carpe Diem Quartet
Charles Wetherbee, violin
Robert Firdman, violin
Korine Fujiwara, viola
Wedny Morton, cello

NAXOS 8.570437


Carpe Diem is a string quartet based in Columbus, Ohio, on its way to an international presence via a new recording deal with Klaus Heyman's Classical music cash cow, Naxos recordings.
Plans call for a cycle of the complete String Quartets by Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev (1856-1915) of which volume one, including the quartets number 1 in b flat minor and number 3 in d, has just been released.

Is it bad luck to be born a good composer among giants? For years even Haydn was dwarfed by Mozart and Beethoven, though Haydn was older, lived longer, wrote more and perfected the musical form Taneyev wrote in so ingratiatingly one hundred years later. Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky were the giants of Taneyev's Russia, with Rimsky-Korsakov's gift for pedagogy and orchestration nipping at everyone heels, and the young Stravinsky ready to cause riots with his pre World War I ballets. In fact, Tchaikovsky taught Taneyev, and the teacher mentor relationship switched in later years as Tchaikovsky began to depend upon the younger man's counsel and advice. In his lifetime Taneyev, well connected to the Russian nobility, had official posts in the government and -like Borodin the chemist-pursued music as an avocation.
He left several volumes of songs, six numbered string quartets plus three 0thers and parts of a seventh, two symphonies, numerous keyboard works and a massive opera The Orestia, the latter admired by Rimsky-Korsakov and Stanislavski and very successful in its day.
His support of the 1905 revolution cost Taneyev his place in the Moscow conservatory and even his connections and positions didn't keep him safe from retribution. He did manage to live under the radar, and was known as a complete gentleman with a gentle and aristocratic bearing. He died at fifty -nine in 1915.

Carpe Diem's new recording project is a blessing for anyone looking to explore under served repertoire. The performances are first rate and the recorded sound a fat, rich delight. The inner voices are scrupulously balanced, thank goodness- since Taneyev weaves a tight web of musical textures. There is not one voice more important that the others. This total synthesis of musical lines leaves room plenty of melodic developments, with the almost oriental
(Mozart called 'Turkish!') themes of seconds and pungent, non text book harmonies giving the music excitement and forward motion. Carpe Diem obviously plays together a lot, listens to one another intently and the experience of playing together and working together closely as first class musicians is evident throughout. There's no ego in this playing, but exquisite music making. Smooth when Taneyev requires, and more punchy and dramatic, as befits the heir to Tchaikovsky. For an heir Taneyev was, a gifted composer, in no way a routinier, who seized the day just as this fine new quartet is doing one hundred years later.

Christopher Purdy

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