Taneyev: String Quintet in G, op. 14
Glazunov: String Quintet, op. 39
Christian Poltéra, cello
Sergei Taneyev and Alexander Galzunov both live up to their reputations in these string quintets. Taneyev’s G Major (his First String Quintet, the Second is scored with two violas) is a terse, complex work, heavily contrapuntal and rigorously structured. Glazunov’s quintet, by contrast, is a breezy, carefree affair, elegant and varied, but in comparison to the Taneyev a work of modest ambition.
The Taneyev is in three movements, a rigorously structured sonata-allegro, a vibrant (if hardly light) scherzo and a theme and variations finale, the theme taken from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko. Textures are generally thick and contrapuntal, and Taneyev regularly risks making the sound too bottom heavy, with the two cellists underpinning the melodies with continaully divergent bass lines. The Gringolts Quartet, with their celebrity guest, Christian Poltéra, give a committed account, suitably weighty but always clear. There is a tactile quality to the sound: even before the huge opening chord is voiced we hear the sound of bows rasping against strings in preparation for the huge triple (quadruple?) stopped texture. Melodic lines often float, but just as often, the tone of the instruments is earthy and focussed, the better to project the contrapuntal lines. And, for all Taneyev’s structural rigour, the ensemble is able to maintain a sense of spontaneity, perfectly timing the surprise twists, like the coda to the second movement, which seems to come out of nowhere, but concludes decisively in just a bar or two. On the other hand, the quiet ending to the work, a resigned final variation in the last movement, seems to flow organically out of the grand fugue that forms the climax – this time round the players seem to be contributing the formal logic in spite of the composer.
The Glazunov is played with similar conviction. While this is melody driven music, the accompanying textures are often highly sophisticated, and the players ensure that all the nuances are heard. In the scherzo second movement, Glazunov sets the arco melody against a lively pizzicato accompaniment, and again the clarity and projection of the playing make this unusual combination all the more compelling. The finale is a Russian folk dance, all heavy downbeats and stirring rhythms. The solid tone of the ensemble and the very definite clear-cut articulation pay dividends here; as in the Taneyev, the sheer physicality of the sound energises the music beautifully.
The two works both make occasional appearances on disc, and the competition, while select, is surprisingly strong. As with all of Taneyev’s chamber works, the main competitor is the Taneyev Quartet on a Northern Flowers reissue. Their approach is completely different to the Gringolts’. The textures are lighter and fleeter throughout, not as bottom heavy and not as intense. They too manage to project the counterpoint with clarity, but the music doesn’t feel as intense or heartfelt. It’s a different approach, no doubt just as valid, but, for me, the Gringolts give the more compelling account.
Top choice for the Glazunov is a Nash Ensemble release, where it is coupled with Arensky and Borodin. Again, the Gringolts give a heavier account, but here lightness is more of a virtue, and the melodic grace of the Nash Ensemble version sets it apart. The nimble pizzicato in the second movement is mesmerising in the Nash account, and the Gringolts seem earthbound by comparison. That said, the Gringolts have the upper hand in the finale, demonstrating that their weighty tone need not hinder the music’s dance spirit. All three recordings are well worth hearing, and this new disc is recommended, primarily for the Taneyev (by far the more interesting work), but perhaps as a supplement rather than a replacement for the venerable Taneyev Quartet account.