The compositions presented on this compact-disc at first seem to have more differences than similarities. The Piano Quartet written by the youthful Mendelssohn in 1824 stands at the source of the romantic chamber ensemble. It was written at the time when Beethoven was composing his very last string quartets and the Ninth Symphony. The Piano Quintet of Taneyev, which appeared in 1909, was his final large-scale chamber composition, which completed by itself a whole epoch in Russian chamber performance. At the time it was being composed Schoenberg was writing his first atonal opuses, in Arqueil Satie was carrying on his extravagance, in the distant America Ives was producing his bold avant-garde experiments. However, upon closer scrutiny, one could observe that the threads connecting them besides the common genre (ensembles for piano and strings) are stretched past all the barriers of cultures, epochs and ages. A direxct connection exists between Taneyev and Mendelssohn through Leipzig, where the latter composer founded the conservatory from which the Rubinstein brothers graduated. Taneyev studied with Nikolai Grigorievich Rubinstein, the “great artist”, a remarkable pianist and ensemble virtuoso. It was particularly from him that the composer had acquired a fondness toward the chamber ensemble, just as his teacher and friend Piotr Tchaikovsky had been carefully scrutinizing German chamber music and demonstrating enthusiasm toward the music of Anton Grigorievich Rubinstein, for whom Mendelssohn had always remained an example of style and artistic mastery.
It seems that the classical music, which had inspired Bach and Beethoven, the idols of Mendelssohn and Taneyev, spread its wings over both compositions – by the youth, Felix Mendellsoh, starting his journey on the path of life, and by the wise, eccentric master Sergei Taneyev.
Already in the very first measures of Mendelssohn’s Quartet the influence of Beethoven is perceptible (the “Pastoral” Sonata opus 28). The form of the first movement seems even more strict and monolithic than it is in the works of the classics: Mendelssohn here applies a specific touch, deriving the theme of the subsidiary theme group from one of the themes of the primary theme, in order to emphasize the unity of the musical material. The development theme is elaborated in fixed “squares”. The level of the dramatic impulse, however, is lower than Beethoven’s: the elegiac moods, so typical of Mendelssohn prevail in the first movement and immerse into a gentle and serene mood in the following Andante movement, which is also masterfully elaborate in its form. For the highlights of Mendelssohn’s chamber music style – the D minor Piano Trio and the F minor Piano Quartet, this type of juxtaposition is very characteristic. Very “Mendelssohnian” in its character is the voluptuous and at the same time edgy scherzo as well as the tempestuous Finale, permeated with allusions of dance music. The youthful directness of feeling in Mendelssohn’s music combined with a polished sense of form, typical of a mature master, are reminiscent of Beethoven’s youthful quartets which bear no opus numbers, written for the same ensemble following the traditions of Mozart in 1785-1786. it seems that Beethoven, who boldly swept aside the canons of classical forms in his late chamber compositions, was particularly here able to transmit the classical aesthetic platform to the young genius.
In its form Taneyev’s Quintet follows the vein of late Beethoven’s revelations. Meticulously studying the musical legacy of Palestrina and the other Renaissance masters during his late years, Beethoven once has again revived the contrapuntal banner which was lying for a long time in a dusty corner during his epoch.
Taneyev raised this banner high up over Russia; starting with his Cantata “Ioann Damaskin” opus 1 through the Quintet and ending with his last Cantata “Upon Reading a Psalm” his music is permeated with the most delicate sense of horizontal contrapuntal lines combining together to form a complex single entity. Notwithstanding all of its dramatic qualities and bright dramaturgy, alternating with a sublime lyricism, virtuosity of the parts and effectiveness of ensemble technique, attracts the listener particularly with its “building material”, which seemingly had grown out of Bach’s era, elaborated in the spirit of Beethoven’s willful, strenuous development and richly adorned with late romantic stylistic details typical for Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein. Such, for example, is the third movement, written in the form of a passacaglia – baroque variations on a repeating bass progression. The theme lasting two measures which is sounded by various instruments in various tonalities, is unchanged during the course of the entire movement, but the character of the voices surrounding it constantly endows it with a different character: from a pompous procession to a sensitive and frail art song. The outer movements are connected by common themes: their entire material is sort of spelled out in the gloomy theme of the introduction to the entire Quintet. Even the bright and triumphant subsidiary theme group of the first movement, with which the entire Quintet closes, is accurately derived out of the primary theme group, following all the classical canons (and the latter in its turn derived from the introduction). The “arch” formed between the stern introduction and the triumphant coda of the Quintet could once again remind us of Beethoven’s music – first of all, the Fifth and Ninth Symphonies with their motto “through struggle to victory”.
The music of Mendelssohn and Taneyev, which you are listening to presents the most effective proof that in the Romantic era chamber music had remained a sort of island of stability amid a tempestuous sea of striving for new forms in the symphony and opera. And this is what enabled it to preserve its actuality during the first “anti-romantic” half of the 20th century, during the era of Hindemith, Shostakovich and Stravinsky, all of whom had continued the classical traditions in their chamber compositions.
Pianist Tigran ALIKHANOV was born in 1943 in Moscow into the family of the outstanding physicist. His mother is the famous violinist Slava Roshal. In 1961 he completed studies at the Central Music School affiliated with Moscow Conservatory as a pupil of A. S. Sumbatyan. Then he studied at Moscow Conservatory and its post-graduate program with professor Lev Oborin, during the years 1961–1969. in 1967 having become a winner of the M. Long and J. Thibaud Competition in Paris Tigran Alikhanov began his concert career. During the preceding years he has given hundreds of concerts in the largest cities of Russia and the countries of the CIS and has frequently performed abroad (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, South Africa, the Netherlands, USA and Spain). However, the majority of concerts given by the the pianist take place in Moscow. Among them are 25 monographical programs, devoted to the musical legacy of Beethoven, as well as a few cycles of works of Mozart, Schubert, Chopin and Brahms.
The pianist is widely known as a wonderful performer as part of chamber ensembles and a insightful interpreter of chamber music. In ensemble with numerous musicians from Russia and other countries Tigran Alikhanov has performed virtually the entire chamber ensemble repertoire. Among the musicians with whom he worked one could name N. Petrov, A. Lubimov, A. Rudin, I. Monighetti, V. Feigin, L. Golub, the Moscow String Quartet, the Shostakovich State String Quartet, the Prokofiev State String Quartet, the Ensemble of Soloists of the Bolshoi Theater under the direction of A. Lazarev and numerous others. “The performing style of Tigran Alikhanov is notable for its seriousness, careful approach to the composer’s conception and a wealth of timbral sound on the piano. The virtuosic side of Alikhanov’s art stands on a very high level”, remarks pianist Nikolai Petrov.
Tigran Alikhanov demonstrates a lively interest in contemporary music. In his repertoire along with the classics of the 20th century (Stravinsky, Hindemith, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Bartok, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Ives, Honneger) there is a fair share compositions represented of the latest times, including Boulez, Kurtag, Messiaen, Crumb, Denisov, Schnittke, Knaifel, Mamisashvili, Butsko… The pianist has participated numerous times in such festivals as the “Moscow Autumn” (1980, 1986, 1988), in festivals in Tallinn (1978), Kharkov (1977), the New Year Festival of Contemporary Music in Sophia, the “Alternativa” festival in Moscow (1988, 1989), the Festival of Shostakovich’s Music in Moscow (1986, 1996), as well as the festival “The Year of Shostakovich” in France.
In 1989 Tigran Alikhanov together with the Moscow String Quartet performed Taneyev’s Quintet in Paris in Salle Gavaut and Denisov’s Quintet in France.
“…This is one of the best pianists with whom I had the experience of working” Edison Denisov had remarked with gratitude. “I consider him one of the greatest specialists in the sphere of contemporary music… He is a very responsible person, an excellent musician and a true hard-worker”.
In 1985 the musician was awarded the Premium of the Hungarian Association “Artisus” for promoting contemporary music. In 1990 he was awarded the honorable title of “Honorary Artist of Russia” and in April 2002 – the title of “People’s Artist of Russia”.
Since 1971 Tigran Alikhanov has taught at Moscow Conservatory in 1992 he obtained the rank of professor) where he is the director of the Chamber Ensemble and String Quartet Department. In June 2005 Alikhanov was appointed rector of Moscow Conservatory.
During the course of the last twenty years the Moscow String Quartet has earned the reputation of being one of the most famous chamber ensembles in the world “from the former USSR”. All four of its participants graduated with honors from Moscow Conservatory, after which they undertook studies in the Conservatory’s post-graduate program under the tutelage of Valentin Berlinsky, the founder of the celebrated Borodin String Quartet. Their active concertizing has brought a tremendous amount of success to the quartet in the concert halls of Russia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Holland, Germany, France, England, Spain and especially the USA. The quartet received first prizes at the Leo Weiner Competition in Budapest, the International Competition in Evian, where it became a winner of two prizes at once for the performance of both a classical and a contemporary composition. The quartet has taken part in international festivals in Stratford-upon-Avon, Kuhmo, the City of London, Paris, Holland, West Berlin, the Cassals and Flagstaff festivals and others. Special mention should be made of the role of the quartet in promoting contemporary music: the quartet has performed and recorded on LP records for the first time in Russia the works of such composers as Anton Webern, Luigi Nono and other 20th century classics. (melody. su)