Dover Quartet makes an impressive showing at Kravis Center

By David Fleshler

The Dover Quartet performed Monday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

The Dover Quartet performed Monday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Among the newest of the many fine young chamber ensembles appearing locally in recent years is the Dover Quartet.

The four musicians (violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and cellist  Camden Shaw) who performed Monday at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, formed the ensemble when they were all 19-year-old students at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. Today, still just in their mid-20s, they have accumulated several major awards, including the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition Grand Prize, where they also won special prizes for performances of Haydn, Schubert and a newly commissioned work.

The Dover Quartet’s concert at the Kravis Center’s Rinker Playhouse showed them to have a tight, unified sound, with remarkably similar tone coloring among the four musicians, and a taut, athletic execution, perfect for the nervy sensibility of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet. Yet when they turned to Schubert’s Quartet No. 13, there was a studied, drilled, note-bound quality to their playing that didn’t allow the work to take flight.

They opened with the Barber, a work that seemed to play to their strengths, from tense ascending passages that they played with a dramatic sizzle to the delicate chorale-like music that followed, delivered with an unblemished texture, evenness of tone and fine balancing. The famous Adagio provided one of their finest moments of the evening. The players brought a sense of vulnerability and yearning to the ascending melody that moved from viola to cello to violins, a feeling often absent from more strident performances, particularly in the popular arrangement for string orchestra. The last movement could have used a little more of the dramatic bite they brought to the first.

Few chamber music performances are interrupted by shouts from the audience. But just as the musicians sat down to perform Eric Sessler’s 2013 String Quartet, which had been commissioned by the Dover ensemble, a man yelled, “Before you play, why don’t you tell us something about the piece, how you relate to it. Hook us up!”

“Uh, sure, that’s a really good idea,” said cellist Camden Shaw, who went on to relate to the audience how Sessler had been one of their teachers at Curtis and how the third movement attempts to evoke the guitar through the use of dense chords and slides.

The Sessler quartet is an accessible but by no means simple work. The first movement had a broad, big-boned American tone, with lots of open strings, big chords and rhapsodic flights of melody in the cello and first violin. In the lyric second movement, the melody moved from instrument to instrument, punctuated by dissonances that were unresolved but never harsh.

The third movement, as advertised, contains riffs that seemed to evoke the guitar, although the music got more interesting when the guitar motifs seemed to disappear and the music transformed into quick passages and soft-edged chords. The last movement was the most immediately appealing, with a constant rapid figure of notes that bounced from instrument to instrument, powering the movement like a miniature steam engine.

The musicians brought a fine, wintry bleakness to the opening of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 13, known as the Rosamunde. But too often in this work, there was a plodding quality to the perfoemance, a feeling that they were playing the music exactly as written, no more, no less. The melody in the Andante lacked much feeling for Schubert’s unique tone of youthful wistfulness.

But there were also many strengths in the performance, such as the little ornamental runs and figures in the last movement, tossed off with lightness, precision and style.

The Dover Quartet is an extremely promising ensemble, as technically able as any chamber groups today, and we should hear much more from them in the future.

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Tue Dec 10, 2013
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