Review: Dover Quartet

with Peter Serkin, piano
Oct. 19, University of Richmond

In its Richmond debut, the Dover Quartet was just a few measures into Schubert’s Quartet in G major, D. 887, when it became clear why this ensemble has so quickly vaulted into the top tier of American string quartets.

The Dover – violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and cellist Camden Shaw – treated Schubert’s last (and longest) quartet to an urgent reading that fully plumbed its sonic and spiritual darkness but also revealed a wealth of textural and coloristic detail, as well as the many harmonic twists in this piece that suggest how Schubert’s musical language might have evolved had he lived longer.

The first movement was distinguished by sharp accents and stark dynamic contrasts, underlining the turbulence of this music. Equally striking was the transparency of the group’s string voicings, most notably in the quartet’s andante. The musicians maintained concentration in the scherzo and finale, making these less substantial and more episodic movements sound stronger than they really are.

Pianist Peter Serkin joined the ensemble in a performance of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, that one veteran listener described as “old school.” Serkin set the tone of this interpretation, adopting decidedly measured tempos with emphatic rhythms and producing piano sonorities that favored the dusky over the brilliant.

The string players followed the pianist’s lead, perhaps more dutifully than ardently – one often sensed they would have preferred a more propulsive pace. String balances were inconsistent, with Shaw’s cello at times standing out unexpectedly, but the emphasis on detail and dynamics that characterized the Schubert came through in the Brahms as well.

Camp Concert Hall at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center was “tuned” to string tone, and treated the Dover even more kindly than it has most quartets. Projecting piano tone in this space is trickier, and as played by Serkin the instrument’s sound tended toward the boomy and boxy.

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