BRAHMS: Piano Quartets 1 & 3 – Milander Quartet – Avie 2203, 76:14 [Distr. by Allegro] ***1/2:
This is the first recording by the youthful Milander Quartet, and since Avie labels this as Volume One we can be certain that the complete piano quartets will be forthcoming; whether or not a suitable disc mate is found to pair up with the lengthy Opus 26 remains to be seen.
On first hearing I was quite enthused with these youthful firebrands, but a couple of comparisons tempered my enthusiasm somewhat. It’s not that they can’t play—believe me, they can, and the deep rich sound that Avie provides only adds to the excitement. But upon playing one of my favorites, the Argerich-Kremer-Bashmet-Maisky recording on DGG of the Opus 25 (coupled with the Schumann Fantasiestucke), I was struck with the image of a group of children playing when suddenly the adults enter the room and show them how the game is really played. Argerich and company bring such an impenetrable depth to this music, something that goes far beyond mere things like phrasing and tempos (of which some of the movements here are slightly questionable). There is a profound maturity of understanding that those great artists bring to the music that makes the Milander sound just on the other side of immature.
Yet I do not want to belabor that point, for they have a good grasp of this music, especially the rigorous and more classically constructed C-minor quartet, written some 15 years after the first. Here the Milander seems to find a more convivial arrangement, and produce a reading that is lovely on almost all counts. However—and I know it might not be fair—I had to turn to the most classically-oriented of any of the Brahms piano quartets I know, that of the Beaux Arts (along with Walter Trampler) to hear what a true classical conception of this piece might sound like, and the results are again startling. The beauty of that reading is that one can hear what Brahms sounds like when the emphasis in on line and form above all else; the Milander falls somewhere between the Argerich and the Beaux Arts.
So what we have is a quartet that is very much a work in progress. For a complete set a good choice might still be Tamás Vásáry and Berlin Philharmonic principal players on DGG, but the Milander is nothing to be trifled with, and though I am sure their next Brahms recording will be along the same lines as this one, they have much to offer, and the future should be very promising indeed.
— Steven Ritter
An excellent DG debut!