Apparently a staple in Russia, the music of Taneyev exists on the fringes of the repertoire in the West, something that should be rectified--and will be if this superb CD made by a starry cast of performers gets the attention it deserves. He\'s a Romantic composer, but hardly of the heart-on-sleeve variety, since he was a master of counterpoint and firmly encased his Romantic impulses in a well-fitted classical jacket. Sometimes he makes you think of a more modern, pungent Brahms with a Russian accent.
The Piano Quintet, dating from 1911, is a huge chamber work, 44 minutes long in this performance; its 19-minute first movement is longer than many other complete works. After a mournful opening, it builds in drama and intensity, broken by sections that can seem jocular. These players bring it off splendidly. My only nit-pick would be a touch of heaviness in the second-movement Scherzo; I could imagine it done with a lighter touch. But the Largo movement is gorgeous, its stately tread and spare beauty casting a hypnotic spell. The full-bodied, ardent Finale builds to an extended coda in which Taneyev pulls out all the stops. The violins pushed to their outer limits and the slashing fortissimos are of the sort that can bring an audience to its feet cheering.
The Trio dates from 1908 and again is a large-scaled chamber work--38 minutes in this well-nigh ideal performance. Gorgeous melodies abound, and the expressive center of the piece is its relatively brief third-movement Andante, whose dueting strings touch the heart. The Finale is another of those muscular, rhythmic movements that create excitement, but with a fascinating unexpected interruption in the form of a tranquil passage and piano cadenza before resuming the dash to the finish line. Mikhail Pletnev is magnificent in both works, with pianism that\'s lucid and expressive. He knows when to take a back seat to his string players and when to step into the spotlight. Vadim Repin and Lynn Harrell join him in the Trio.
All-star lineups don\'t always pan out--the 2005 Yankees didn\'t make it to the World Series, but Pletnev & Co. certainly have won a championship with this disc. Here\'s hoping DG will have them explore more of Taneyev\'s rich chamber music lode.