Saturday, October 01, 2011

For another "Russian" postromantic, try Taneyev; also some notes on Brahms and Schumann; what is "philistinism"?

With all the popularity of Rachmaninoff as a “Russian” postromantic composer (homage to Tchaikovsky),  I thought I would mention the monumental Piano Quintet in G Minor, Op. 30, by Sergei Taneyev. The other day I played the Arabesque recording with Jerome Lowenthal, piano, and with Paul Rosenthal, Yukiko Kamel, Marcus Thompson, and Stephen Kates playing the two violins, viola and cello respectively, dating all the way back to 1985.

The work runs to about 41 minutes, with the first movement almost half the work, starting with a slow introduction and a rich post-Czarist Sonata movement crashing to a violent close, reminding one of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Manfred (quote on “Smallville” as I recall).  The scherzo is in E-flat, and the slow movement is in the subdominant C Major. That’s unusual in minor-keyed cyclic works, but I did that with my D Minor Piano Sonata (age 16), and the trouble is that the dominant of the slow movement becomes the tonic of the whole work, maybe tiring the ear. But here the finale shows signs of progressive tonality (like that to be followed with Carl Nielsen later), starting out in C Minor as if a conventional rondo. But it wanders back, as G becomes “Dominant” (pun), and the work overreaches itself with its triumphant “marcatissimo” end in G, which generally hasn’t been a popular key for triumphant closes with romantics (Elgar’s Enigma being the exception).   The triumphant closing theme has a rising line that resembles the American "Star Spangeled Banner", with a Rachmaninoff-like "big tune" feel; I wondered, what 40's film noir was this "obscure" music used for?  ("I did it for the money, and I did it for the woman.") This whole work sounds like it wanted to be, not a piano concerto, but a full-fledged “symphony”.  As Dohanyi  showed, thought, the piano quintet can really get loud.
Here’s a recording on YouTube of the finale posted by Gllandyen, peformed by the Artsblooming Ensemble in 2008. The group has a Facebook page in Chinese (link)  which I’m not sure how that works if Facebook isn’t allowed in China (maybe Taiwan, or maybe the ban is easy to get around).

This morning I played through a Teldec CD of the two famous F#-minor Sonatas, by Schumann and Brahms (Elizabeth Leonskaja) somewhat low-keyed performances, and then on Simax, Eva Knardahl playing the Brahms Sonata #1 in C, Op. 1.  Yes, you heard me right. They call this the Brahms “Hammerkavier” (but there is no “grosse fugue”). It’s filled with familiar themes, for such a rarely played work. One time a pianist said, “I will play Brahms. You may not like it, but it will be good for you.”  The Brahms F#-minor sonata is weird, too.

As for the Schumann, it anticipates the world of the Big C Major Fantasy, but the transition between Scherzo and Finale seems abrupt.  I love the frantic passage work in the first movement.   It is said to be connected to Schumann’s opposition to ”philistinism”, which is well explained in Wikipedia. 

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