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  • Adrian Quanjer,

"A fabulous experience"

"One of the aims of the Association of Friends and Supporters of the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln (University of Music and Dance, Cologne) is to assist alumni in carving out a career in a highly competitive international field. Together with sponsors, West German Radio, and ARS Produktion, promising musicians are offered a recording in support of getting better access to the international podia. This year’s release of ‘Taste the Best’ brings us two not-so-very well-known jewels of (late) romantic chamber music that should appeal to all lovers of traditional classical music: Camille Saint-Saëns’s E major ‘youth’ Piano Quartet and Ivanovich Taneyev’s Piano Quartet Op. 20.

Who are these musicians? A short historical synopsis. From the information provided in the booklet, we learn that three of them, Andrei Roszyk (violin), Ian Psechodschi (viola), and Stéphane Giampellegrini (cello), studied inter alia at the Maastricht Conservatorium in The Netherlands, where they, joined by the pianist Sofia Raychenko, formed (2015) the Malevich Piano Quartet. This quartet soon became a prize winner at the 2017 Dutch Storioni Festival. It participated two years later in the 2019 Orlando Chamber Music Festival (named after the famous Orlando Quartet, which was dissolved in 1997), and obtained in the same year first prize in the Taneyev Chamber Music Competition, Moscow. By all means a promising start.

Also during that same year, the Malevich Piano Quartet entered the Chamber Music class of the Cologne University of Music and Dance. In 2021 it decided to follow a more flexible course. Georgy Voylochnikov (piano), studying at the time at the ‘Köln Hochschule’, joined the three fiddlers in what from then on became the Malevich Ensemble. Finally, to qualify for the ‘Taste the Best’ recording, strict rules apply. Despite the aforementioned encouraging results, the Malevich Ensemble had to prove its exceptional talent by winning the 7th Chamber Music competition in Cologne, which it did.

I’ve long held the view that Salon-style Music and the like only needed a handful of qualified players to make it sound well. But over the years it dawned on me that such music would benefit enormously when given the additional emotional depth it deserves. This release proves it.

I’m not sure whether Saint-Saëns’s Piano Quartet, written when he was 16-18 years old, was directly or indirectly meant for a Paris Salon. It soon disappeared and was kept on the shelves of the Paris Conservatorium library until published in 1992. The Quartet is firmly anchored in the classical chamber tradition, but listening to the Malevich Ensemble’s performance I discovered that these musicians are able to give it so much more musical weight that it surpassed any resemblance with a run-of-the-mill ‘salon’ presentation. Not only because of the sheer commitment to playing but also the rare combination of carefully dosed French Silk & German Strength. The overall fabric is carefully balanced by integrating the piano in such a way that none of the musicians loses their ability to shine individually.

There is hi-res competition for Saint-Saëns: Saint-Saëns: Piano Quartets - Mozart Piano Quartet. It is, as John B. says, a delight to listen to but doesn’t on the other hand have the same elaborately shaded colour palette as put on display by the Malevich Ensemble. A matter of personal preference, no doubt.

Be Saint-Saëns already sufficient reason to acquire this disc, the following Taneyev Piano Quartet Op. 20 fulfills every wish a lover of robust chamber music could possibly hope for. Painted with a wide brush, it is reminiscent of the best Brahms produced in this genre. Notably, the resemblance with the symphonic character of his First Piano Quartet. This one clearly needs more than a handful of competent musicians and the Malevich Ensemble obliges by cleverly uncovering Taneyev’s full emotional potential; delving deep into the embedded intellectual nobility. A fabulous experience.

In the realm of high resolution, Taneyev goes unchallenged. The hard-to-find RBCD versions I know of are at best of similar quality but do lack the lush warmth of the ARS sound engineering, which is in both Saint-Saëns and Taneyev exemplary.

The Association modestly hopes that “A professionally produced CD … can serve as a ‘calling card’ to significantly enhance career proposals”. I believe that for these musicians, united in the Malevich Ensemble, the door to the world is now wide open."


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