To most people unfamiliar with the history of Russian music, Sergey Taneyev is not a well-known composer. To those who are familiar with it, he was Tchaikovsky's most important student, a composer who worked, for the most part, outside the circle of Rimsky-Korsakov, although he worked alongside it. Taneyev's music, therefore, does not share the same harmonic or programmatic characteristics of his contemporaries' music. His is more studied, more traditionally European in concept. The solo piano works on this recording by Joseph Banowetz reflect that attention to structure and construction. In many ways, Banowetz's reputation as an educator and scholar, as well as a performer respected around the world for his intrepretations of Romantic literature, makes him the perfect interpreter of Taneyev's piano music. He finds the lyricism, heroicism, melancholy, and yearning typical of Romantic piano music in Taneyev's, but this music is in every sense of its composition -- even emotionally -- orderly. Complexity is found in thematic and harmonic development, the technical more than the expressive. While Taneyev's melodies are not nearly as memorable as Tchaikovsky's, they can still be moving and quite affective, as in the Prelude and the "Lullaby." The more substantial "Theme and Variations" and the Allegro show Taneyev's talent for larger forms; however, the two movements of an unfinished Piano Concerto that open the album show that skill as still being nurtured. It's a work from Taneyev's student days, overflowing with good ideas, many reminiscent of Tchaikovsky, but definitely in need of tightening and refining and saving some of those ideas for other movements or works. Two curiosities of Taneyev's piano music -- the area of his output that is perhaps the least recognized -- are thrown in to show the composer had a sense of humor as well. First are four brief "improvisations," written at a dinner party by Taneyev, Arensky, Glazunov, and Rachmaninov. Each composer completed in a first line, then they would rotate the manuscripts around the table until all four had composed a portion of each page. The final offering is a small pastiche of Tchaikovsky melodies put into a piano duet, with a fantastical narrative, written as a birthday present for the elder composer. Since the manuscript isn't clear whether it is meant to be narrated aloud, or even truly performed at all, Banowetz and Adam Wodnicki perform it with narration by Vladimir Ashkenazy and without.
AllMusic Review by Patsy Morita
|Piano Concerto in E flat major|
|Theme & Variations, for piano in C minor|
|Improvisations (4), for piano (collaborative work by Taneyev, Arensky, Glazunov, Rachmaninov)|