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The major work here is a piano concerto begun when Taneyev was twenty and left incomplete at two movements after the criticisms of Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui and Anton Rubinstein. Taneyev had given the Moscow première of the Brahms Piano Concerto No 1 about a year earlier, and it is an obvious influence. The piano makes its first appearance at around four minutes in both concertos, picking up phrases from the orchestra. Taneyev sketches an even more modest entry than Brahms [listen -- track 1, 3:56-5:14]. He invites further comparison with the German composer when he uses the standard sonata form and extends the first movement roughly a minute longer than Brahms's already hefty 24 or so. This length is probably one of the things criticized by Taneyev's fellow composers. The movement would be more effective if cut by perhaps a third. But belying my unkind opening remarks, Taneyev did sometimes write melodies of which even Tchaikovsky might have been proud as in this revisiting of the piano's entrance [listen -- track 1, 6:45-7:58].

If Brahms and Tchaikovsky are clear influences in the concerto's first movement, Rachmaninov was in turn anticipated in the second. The moody introduction illustrates the point [listen -- track 2, 0:00-1:19]. Taneyev works (or rather overworks) the single funereal melody and atmosphere throughout the movement's more usual length, and here the concerto concludes, without the rondo that no doubt was the intended finale before criticism caused the young composer to abandon the effort. While the world did not lose a great concerto, it has its moments and these performers make the most of them.

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Copyright © 8 January 2008 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


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