This disc offers works for violin and orchestra from Russian contemporaries and friends Rimsky-Korsakov and Taneyev. Described here as ‘Violin Concertos’ the first score is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fantasy on Russian Themes based on old Russian folk-tunes. Taneyev is represented by his Suite de Concert a work that inhabits the world of old European dance forms from the baroque period.
A pupil of Tchaikovsky, whom he replaced at the Moscow Conservatory, Sergey Taneyev was a virtuoso pianist and a teacher of Scriabin and Rachmaninov. Although as a composer Taneyev is best known today for his four symphonies, he also composed a sizeable body of chamber music, including six String Quartets. These beautifully crafted works are marked by technical assurance at every turn, as well as dramatic inspiration and intense lyricism. The masterly five-movement Quartet No. 1, in fact Taneyev’s Fifth, includes two notable slow movements, while the lighter Quartet No. 3 features a graceful theme with eight variations, alternately playful and contemplative.
A pupil of Tchaikovsky, who called him the ‘Russian Bach’, Sergey Taneyev is best known today for his four symphonies, although he also composed a sizeable body of chamber music, including nine complete String Quartets. Quartet No. 9 is a memorably melodic work, while the beautifully crafted Quartet No. 6, his last completed quartet, is rather more austere, though marked by a playful Jig, and even more masterful in construction.
This is not such a bizarre cross-over as one might imagine for in the 18th century the great Irish musician Turlough O’Carolan, a blind harpist, met the Italian musician Geminiani in Dublin, and through him encountered the music of, yes, guess who, Antonio Vivaldi. So here we have a case of substituting Irish instruments for baroque ones, using baroque instruments to accompany Irish themes, by creating dialogues between Celtic and baroque instruments, or by letting all the musicians improvise. One moment we appear to be listening to a ‘straight’ baroque concerto, then all of a sudden the conventional string continuo/ripieno of the baroque ensemble (Le Orfanelle della Pieta) gives way to celtic musicians playing a jig or reel on anything from a Irish bouzouki to a fiddle. The baroque group consists of three each of first and second violins, one viola, two cellos, a bass and harpsichord while the Irish musicians play Irish fiddle, an Irish flute (like a baroque flute), tin and low whistles, Uileann pipes, Irish bouzouki, mandolins, bodhran, bones, and the Celtic harp (played here with metal strings to resemble its harpsichord counterpart in the other group).
Most of the familiar orchestral versions of Richard Wagner’s operatic music were arranged either by him or his followers in the 19th century, so the Overture & Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser & the Prelude to Act III from Lohengrin have long been performed in these special concert formats. But the main work of this SACD is the 1993 suite arranged by Henk de Vlieger, Parsifal, an Orchestral Quest, which is a fresh adaptation of the key moments from Wagner’s final music drama. The work was commissioned by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, after de Vlieger, the ensemble’s percussionist, had successfully arranged music from Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen into a similar orchestral vehicle for them. Parsifal, an Orchestral Quest was premiered on RCA in 1997 by Edo de Waart, & Neeme Järvi leads the 2nd recorded performance on this 2010 release on Chandos.
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi is the best-known excerpt from Taneyev’s only opera, Oresteia, the mammoth overture to which has all the force of a Romantic symphonic poem. His Overture on a Russian Theme is based on the same folksong that Rimsky-Korsakov used in his own Fantasy on Russian Themes while the shorter works demonstrate in various ways Taneyev’s scrupulous craftsmanship.
n these days of big boxes, DG really ought to gather together everything Markevitch did and issue it as a set. He was a genius, and his recordings with the Lamoureux Orchestra, especially, combine interpretive brilliance with a classic French instrumental style that no longer exists. They are irreplaceable, and the playing here is amazing. Rimsky-Korsakov’s music demands just the sort of diamond-like precision and clarity that was Markevitch’s stock in trade as a conductor. There are more raucous, more traditionally Russian versions of The Golden Cockerel Suite available (Järvi’s for example), but none that point up the music’s anticipations of Stravinsky so compellingly. Both here and in the May Night Overture, Rimsky-Korsakov becomes a prophetically modern master.