DOHNÁNYI; TANEYEV Piano Quintets
‘His own compositions are more remarkable for sound workmanship and a cultured taste than for charm or warmth of inspiration’, says the second edition of Grove about Sergey Taneyev. They can’t have heard his tremendous Piano Quintet of 1911 – one of the supreme masterpieces of Russian Romantic chamber music and so filled with passionate emotion that it feels at times like it’s about to metamorphose into Tchaikovsky’s Manfred symphony. (It’s not much shorter, either.)
It needs a virtuoso performance, and along with Dohnanyi’s Quintet, Op 1, that’s what it gets here, recorded live at the Music@Menlo festival in California, and featuring the festival’s co-founders, the pianist Wu Han and the cellist David Finckel. If it wasn’t for the immediacy of the performances, though, you wouldn’t guess: the balance between piano and strings is clear and realistic with plenty of clarity to the piano’s left hand and a minimum of congestion in the more turbulent climaxes. It’s a more pleasant sound than on Supraphon’s recent version with the Martin≤ Quartet (5/15).
As for the performances, I initially found the phrasing in both works a little strait-laced. In fact, over the full length of the Taneyev, that rhythmic clarity actually helps articulate the musical argument. There’s no shortage of colour or of ardour: whether it’s Paul Neubauer’s viola cutting through the storm like a trumpet or Han’s steel-toothed staccato hinting at Shostakovich in Taneyev’s third-movement passacaglia. Dohnányi’s Brahmsian musical bustle also benefits from these players’ clarity and sense of direction. The lopsided mazurka-rhythms of the finale have an enjoyable swagger.
In short, then, strong performances of two very rewarding pieces. Just ignore the artwork, which implies that this is a star vehicle for Wu Han: a disservice to her role in some highly impressive ensemble-playing.