Hyperion Records

Piano Quintet in D major, Op 51

'Arensky & Taneyev: Piano Quintets' (CDA67965)
Arensky & Taneyev: Piano Quintets
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67965  Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Movement 1: Allegro moderato
Movement 2: Variations: Andante
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Movement 4: Finale (in modo antico): Allegro moderato

Piano Quintet in D major, Op 51
Arensky’s Piano Quintet of 1900 is less monumental and less flamboyant than that of Taneyev, but it is not exactly short of fireworks, especially in the piano writing. That it should be so much less well known than his two piano trios and his two string quartets (the second of which is for the unusual ensemble of violin, viola and two cellos) may seem surprising in view of the élan of the first movement. This launches itself in full sail, with bold chords on the piano and a sweeping theme on the strings that seems capable of weathering all possible storms. Before long the piano is indulging in luxuriant elaborations, but these never obscure the music’s fundamental tone of generous warmth. Various echoes of the Germanic piano-chamber repertoire are heard (notably Brahms’s G minor Quartet in the development section), and British ears may detect some coincidental pre-echoes of Elgar’s Piano Quintet.

The theme of the slow movement variations is the old French wedding song ‘Sur les ponts d’Avignon j’ai ouï chanter la belle’ (a different tune and words from ‘Sur le pont d’Avignon, on y danse’, which generations of British and French children have learned at school but which only appeared in the 1850s). In some of its melodic turns the theme actually resembles the Russian folksong used by Tchaikovsky in String Quartet No 1, or indeed Tchaikovsky’s Legend (from the Children’s Songs Op 54), so delightfully varied by Arensky in his String Quartet No 2. The alternately stormy and reflective variations are resourceful and engaging, perhaps the most memorable transformation being the graceful waltz—an Arenskian speciality.

As so often in Russian instrumental music, the Scherzo is bubbly and capricious in a post-Mendelssohnian way, though not as fairy-light, with much use of bouncy repeated-note chords in the piano, while the trio section is marked by graceful parallel-motion chords.

The Finale opens in Neo-Bachian vein (in modo antico, as the score has it). Arensky taught fugue as well as harmony at the Conservatoire, his students there including the young Rachmaninov, who found the classes unbearably dry and was relieved when Taneyev took over the class. As if to tell us not to take this display of scholasticism too seriously, Arensky suddenly puts a stop to it. The strings recall the second movement’s French chanson, itself now treated quasi-fugally. This in turn leads back to the main first movement theme. Far from this heralding a grand résumé, however, the conclusion is soon upon us. Its somewhat tacked-on quality surely has to take part of the blame for the Quintet’s relative lack of popularity—such a shame, considering the attractiveness of so much of the preceding music.

from notes by David Fanning © 2013

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

   English   Français   Deutsch