TANEYEV; ARENSKY Piano Quintets
The shadow of Tchaikovsky is sometimes said to fall over both of these fine works; it would be fairer to suggest that some of the rays of his genius suffuse them. Taneyev was one of the few composers who studied with Tchaikovsky and also one of the rare people from whom he tolerated criticism (though even the faithful pupil could get a rap on the knuckles if he went too far). His Piano Quintet is an expansive work, warmly played here and with the subtle intelligence Taneyev demanded of himself when planning a work. Among much else, he shows how much invention can be wrought out of something as simple as a scale, hauntingly in the Largo, which David Fanning’s booklet essay perceptively describes as ‘a dialogue…between intellectual severity and expressive warmth’. There is particular brilliance in the Scherzo: like others of their colleagues, when exercising their very Russian preference for French influence over German, Taneyev and Arensky made an exception in favour of Mendelssohn.
If Taneyev’s Quintet is the more impressive, Arensky’s is perhaps the more attractive. It has the lightness of touch that he admired in Tchaikovsky, to whose influence he migrated from that of his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov (thus earning himself a sniffy dismissal in the latter’s memoirs that he would soon be forgotten). The introduction of a waltz into the variation movement (on a French song) is certainly Tchaikovskian, and none the worse for that. The piano-writing is deft and delicate, excellently handled by Piers Lane and well balanced with the strings in the recording.