Hyperion Records

String Trio in B minor
November/December 1913; published in the 1940s with the 1st movement ending and some of the second movement requiring reconstruction from Taneyev's sketches

'Taneyev: String Trios' (CDA67573)
Taneyev: String Trios
Movement 1: [Allegro]
Movement 2: Theme and Variations

String Trio in B minor
The String Trio in B minor, on which Taneyev worked in November or December 1913, was almost his last composition, his chamber-music swansong. In fact, he did not live to finish the work, and when it was eventually published in the 1940s the editors had to reconstruct the ending of the first movement and a substantial part of the second from Taneyev’s sketches. They argued, however, that the fact that both movements were in the same key suggested that these were all that Taneyev had planned; and in fact their structure (a sonata-form Allegro and a theme with variations) makes a well-balanced diptych. (By a strange coincidence, the British composer John Foulds composed a string trio in exactly the same form the year before Taneyev’s.)

Unlike Taneyev’s other two trios, the B minor is a sombre, troubled work, as is immediately evident from the nervous oscillations of the opening of the Allegro. The febrile mood, the sometimes intensely chromatic harmony, the passionate climaxes that appear and disappear, the restless rise and fall of the cello’s figurations, all point towards a change in aesthetic orientation on Taneyev’s part. Passages of this movement might be characterized as expressionistic.

The Andante theme of the second movement has much more of a folk-song style, but the mood remains haunted and elegiac. There follow seven variations (the last four of which Taneyev had left in sketch) that create a kind of self-contained miniature suite. Whether fast or slow, they do not depart so far from the theme as to make it unrecognizable, but they show the composer’s great resourcefulness in harmonic colouring and rhythmic variation. The first three retain the theme’s innate sadness, which comes out clearly in the Andante third variation. A highly contrapuntal Presto and a determined Allegro con spirito attempt to raise the spirits, but even here there is a sense of melancholy and oppression. Not even the sweetly lyrical Moderato sixth variation can wholly shake it off. The last variation, Presto, makes for an effective and rhythmically exciting finale, but one as essentially tense and austere as the mood in which the work began. The final pizzicato cadence, cutting off the violin’s rising line, makes a curt close to the proceedings.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2008

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