A Russian rarity is a winner in this unusual pairing

Sacconi Quartet: Schumann, Taneyev

The Strad Issue: June 2024

Description: A Russian rarity is a winner in this unusual pairing

Musicians: Sacconi Quartet, Peter Donohoe (piano)

Works: Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat major op.44. Taneyev: Piano Quintet in G minor op.30

Catalogue number: SIGNUM SIGCD775

The Sacconi Quartet and Peter Donohoe fulfilled a cherished desire to perform Taneyev’s Piano Quintet on a tour taking in Moscow and Siberia in 2019–20, and this recording was made later in 2020, as pandemic restrictions began to be loosened. It’s a truly thrilling work on the grandest scale, and if it’s heard less often than other similar works, that’s likely down to the sheer technical challenges it presents to the performers.

Donohoe is right at home in this repertoire, and the Sacconi is with him all the way, whether in its expressive playing in the introduction, the playfulness of the Scherzo or the intensity of the passacaglia-form Largo. The finale reaches its denouement in a hard-won G major, which feels truly earned after the intricacy of the arguments leading up to it. If the rich acoustic of the Menuhin Hall sometimes reveals some slightly harsh playing in extreme high registers, arguably that’s as much Taneyev’s fault as anybody’s. This is a reading that offers a complementary view to the benchmark-setting recording by Pletnev with an all-star quartet (DG).

The coupling is Schumann’s chamber masterpiece of 1842. Donohoe and the Sacconi seem to bring Taneyev’s furrowed-brow darkness to the Schumann, often blocking out the sunshine found in other performances. Passages such as the scalic play of the Scherzo seem to prize efficiency over sparkle: absent is a sensitivity to the range of colours that illuminate the composer’s quicksilver mood changes, and the magnificent contrapuntal writing that crowns the finale never quite reaches boiling point. Never mind: there are plenty of Schumann quintets to choose from on disc, but the Taneyev is a far rarer bird, and a joy to hear.