Review By Jerry Dubins ,Fanfare,September 2010
Key, I think, to appreciating the music of Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev (1856–1915) is an understanding of the deep strain of musical conservatism that informs his works. A student of Nikolai Rubinstein and then Tchaikovsky, he turned a deaf ear to his fellow Russian nationalists, “The Mighty Handful,” choosing instead to immerse himself in the study of strict counterpoint and fugue. His strong classical bent and faithfulness to formal procedures did not endear him to his peers, but criticism and condescension cut both ways. Few were spared his unkind words: Borodin was “a clever dilettante,” and Mussorgsky made him laugh. But Taneyev’s barbs were not without merit. He was “a scholar of massive erudition,” who devoured books on history,
His Symphony No. 2 is heard here in an edition by Vladimir Blok, first performed in 1977. Taneyev began work on the piece in 1875 while still a student at the Moscow Conservatory, but gave up on it after sketching its intended finale. As it stands, the symphony is in three movements, an Introduction and Allegro, an Andante, and an Allegro. Whether Taneyev would have added a scherzo movement either before or after the Andante can’t be known. Just a year earlier he had completed a full four-movement symphony, the No. 1 in E Minor, so it could only have been Rubinstein’s criticism of the new score and Taneyev’s own misgivings about it that led him to abandon the effort despite Tchaikovsky’s attempt to talk him out of it.
It’s both easy and difficult to describe this music: easy because it’s a beautiful, lavishly orchestrated, lushly romantic work in the style, according to note author Anastasia Belina, of “Western European symphonic tradition”; but difficult because it’s like nothing you would expect to hear from this time, this place, and this cultural environment. The Tchaikovsky influence is obvious, but most budding young composers studying under a great master take what they can and then go forward with it on their own. In Taneyev’s case, it’s as if he took what he could from Tchaikovsky and then went backwards with it. The main theme of the Andante, for example, recalls Handel, one of Taneyev’s favorite composers. While Taneyev was still struggling with this B?-Major Symphony in 1878, Tchaikovsky was completing work on his F-Minor Symphony (the No. 4), an explosion of creative genius light years ahead of anything Taneyev could have imagined. If Taneyev’s Second Symphony can be comp