String Quintet No.2 in C Major, Op.16
For 2 Violins, 2 Violas & Cello
"In 1905, Sergei Taneyev's String Quintet for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello, dedicated to the memory of the famous Russian chamber music publisher and benefactor M.P. Belaiev, was published. It is a work of almost symphonic proportions. The first movement, Allegro sostenuto is predominantly serious. The magnificent first theme is rhythmically unique, the lyrical second theme is full of pain. The third theme trys to strike a somewhat more friendly mood. The contrapuntal work in this movement is of the highest art. The noble main theme of the Adagio espressivo which follows is a serious melody while the middle section has a lighter air tinged with joy. The lovely third movement, Allegretto scherzando is full of many different tempi and is very close at points to a mazurka. The finale, Vivace e con fuoco, is thematically related to the opening movement. Spirited and full of superb writing topped off by an outstanding fugue at the end."
This was the opinion of Wilhelm Altmann in his Handbook for Chamber music players.
Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) is one of the greatest Russian composers from the last half of the 19th and early 20th centuries and probably, from this group, the one whose music is the least known in the West. Taneyev came from an aristocratic family that patronized the arts and when Sergei's talent became apparent, his father sent him to the newly opened Moscow Conservatory at the age of 10. His main teachers there were Nicolai Rubinstein for piano and Tchaikovsky for composition. Although he became a brilliant pianist, Taneyev opted for a career as a composer and teacher and soon became a professor at the Conservatory. His fame both as a teacher and as a composer quickly spread. Among his many students were Gliere, Rachmaninov, Gretchaninov, Scriabin and Medtner. In Russian concert halls, one always finds a bust of Taneyev alongside those of Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. Sadly, the fame of this outstanding composer has not spread beyond his homeland.
As Altmann says, this is a monumental work. Unquestionably in the first rank of string quintets. It has been out of print for many years. It it would make an extraordinary concert vehicle for any professional ensemble and should not be missed by experienced amateur players of good technical ability.