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Beethoven: Piano Quartets, Trios / Milander Quartet

Beethoven / Milander Quartet
Release Date: 08/27/2013 
Label:  Divox   Catalog #: 20704   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milander Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BEETHOVEN Piano Quartets Nos. 1–3 , WoO 36. Piano Trios: No. 8, WoO 39; No. 9, WoO 38 Milander Qrt DIVOX 20704 (70: 40)

Beethoven’s three piano quartets, each consisting of three movements, were written in 1785 at the age of 15. Specific movements from three of Mozart’s violin sonatas, as well as the piano concertos nos. 11–13 Read more served as models, but Beethoven’s juvenile music already has some of the boldness of gesture and use of potent, short motives that were to become trademarks of his genius. By 1795, in the Piano Trios, op. 1, Beethoven had expanded and refined his construction of musical forms, and was composing chamber music with string parts of much greater independence. (The Allegro con spirito movement in the First Piano Quartet anticipates the powerful energy of the Trio, op. 1/3’s Finale).

Like Mendelssohn’s three very early piano quartets, Beethoven’s aren’t often performed, though it would be refreshing to encounter any of them—Beethoven’s or Mendelssohn’s—in concert. In recording the Beethoven works, the Milander Quartet has wisely chosen to bypass the more obvious repertoire in the small but select piano quartet literature. They supplement the piano quartets on this vivid sounding Divox CD with performances of two of Beethoven’s other less often heard, but very worthwhile “works without opus,” the brief piano trios nos. 8 and 9.

The disc opens with the best of the three quartets, No. 3 in C, several of whose themes are familiar from Beethoven’s having reworked them in the Piano Sonatas op. 2/3 (its first movement) and the Adagio of op. 2/1. The piano part dominates in all of the piano quartets, as well as the trios recorded here, and I agree with Alfred Brendel, who is quoted as saying of the Milander’s pianist and founder: “Happiness was complete when one listened to Milana Chernyavska.” There’s a poise and sense of leadership to her shaping of lines that sets the tone for the entire ensemble to play with the elegant phrasing and rhythmic snap that the music requires.

A few exposed solos reveal that violinist Lisa Schatzman is better in the agile, faster passages that constitute most of the music here, than in slower, sustained ones. I wish that her tone, and that of the violist Alexander Moshenko, were richer, and I must note that Rupert Buchner’s cello solo in the Quartet No. 1’s theme and variations doesn’t sound as secure as it might. (The Milander’s regular cellist, Beni Santora, plays in the other works). However, these are small criticisms of brief moments.

The Trio No. 9 was composed in 1790–91 and contains a Scherzo in place of a slow movement. Each of its three short movements sparkles with distinctly Beethovenian energy and boisterous good humor. The suave Trio No. 8 is a single movement Allegretto from a later period: 1812. It’s nicely done, though Menahem Pressler inflects the piano part more soothingly in a Beaux Arts Trio recording. Chernyavska and company seem to want to turn it into an Allegro.

This disc would make a fine addition to anyone’s Beethoven collection, most likely filling in some gaps in repertoire. The Milander Quartet’s crisp, light textured sound outclasses that of the New Zealand Quartet, who has recorded the three piano quartets on a Naxos CD that doesn’t include any other music, and is the only other comparison recording I can find. Recommended.

FANFARE: Paul Orgel
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Piano and Strings no 9 in E flat major, WoO 38 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milander Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: ?1791; Bonn, Germany 
Quartets (3) for Piano, Violin, Viola and Double Bass, WoO 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milander Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1785; Bonn, Germany 
Allegretto for Piano and Strings in B flat major, WoO 39 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milander Quartet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 

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