Movement 1: Introduzione: Adagio mesto – Allegro patetico
Movement 2: Scherzo: Presto – Moderato teneramente – Tempo 1 – Prestissimo
Movement 3: Largo
Movement 4: Finale: Allegro vivace – Moderato maestoso
The first movement is prefaced by a dark, searching introduction, all of whose ideas will eventually be stirred into the melting-pot of the Allegro patetico. The shadowy theme heard at the outset on the piano (emulated by Prokofiev more than thirty years later, in one of his darkest and most impressive works, the First Violin Sonata) transmutes into the main theme of the movement. It also engenders the main contrasting idea, when, as if by magic, its descending contour is inverted to reveal a nobly aspiring tune. Both thematic groups are led off by the piano, as is the development section (beginning ‘stormily’, after a pizzicato cadence for the strings). Waves of compositional and instrumental virtuosity culminate in a recapitulation that allocates the aspiring theme to the cello and is unremitting in its technical demands on the pianist.
The charm of the effervescent Scherzo rests most obviously on the bouncing staccatos for the strings, but more subtly also on the harmonic deflections in the main theme and in the various circuitous routes Taneyev devises in order to get back to the home key. Not least among the challenges to the pianist in this movement are the scales that lead into the main theme. Initially unobtrusive, these grow on each appearance, eventually covering most of the instrument’s range. Sandwiched in the middle of the movement is a warm-hearted trio section, whose opening bars briefly reappear as a kind of parenthesis in the headlong coda.
Smuggled into that coda is a descending scalic figure that will become the foundation of the Largo, a slow movement of almost Handelian stateliness. This theme is presented in statuesque octaves at the outset, then becomes the support for a lyrical flowering in the strings that seems determined to find freedom of movement despite the stubborn repetitions in the cello. The entire Largo unfolds as a dialogue: not just between piano and strings but also on a more philosophical level, between intellectual severity and expressive warmth.
If the slow movement is a tour de force of construction, so too is the Finale. Its first half is in a constant state of flux, almost as though an entire exposition section has been deleted and we have been plunged instead straight into the development. At length the first movement’s main ideas are caught up in the maelstrom, provoking a grandiose climax. Even this, however, is only the beginning of a coda that is laid out on the grandest scale and topped off by a tintinnabulating affirmation of the long-withheld G major.
from notes by David Fanning © 2013