Taneyev Suite de Concert; Rimsky-Korsakov Fantasy on Russian Themes
There’s Russian and there’s Russian. The St Petersburg and Moscow schools of composition are typified with this coupling. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fantasy on Russian Themes is self-evidently home-grown with the real magic conjured through the composer’s elegant sleight of hand. The first of Rimsky’s pair of themes – the reflective one – is alluded to and even elaborated upon before emerging in its entirety. It’s almost as if the sultana Sheherazade is spinning her tall tales once more. Lydia Mordkovitch does so alluringly, making much of the moment when all is finally revealed. The ensuing Lento is beautiful and evocative, achieving transfiguration in rapt harmonics over impressionistic tremolandi.
Mordkovitch has mellowed. She has refined her intonation, curbed her edgy dynamism. She is seeking and finding more tenderness. The heat of the moment, though, is still there and she dispatches Rimsky’s not inconsiderable pyrotechnics, his double- and triple-stopped passagework, with fiery determination. On the threshold of Taneyev’s splendid Concert Suite she flashes her pride in the opening declamation suggesting some kind of curious pact between Paganini and Wagner.
This substantial work – some kind of masterpiece, I would venture – represents an altogether more rigorous level of sophistication from the Rimsky. The Motherland feels remote; the tone is almost exclusively central European. Taneyev also pays his respects to classicism. The second movement “Gavotte” starts as an 18th-century pastiche but its attitude is entirely late-Romantic. So, too, the almost Mahlerian Wunderhorn-esque atmosphere of the central “Fairy-tale” whose shadowy chromatic theme might have been shaved off the opening of César Franck’s D minor Symphony. It’s like Taneyev has wilfully shrugged off his Russian ancestry.
Mordkovitch does give the piece its Russian accent, though, and Neeme Järvi’s Royal Scottish National Orchestra fully exploit its visionary aspects – nowhere more so than in the “finale e coda” of the Theme with Variations where the whole work achieves sublimation. Mordkovitch’s intonation is truly tested here but there’s no denying the intensity she culls from a chromaticism that is right on the edge of reason.