Tribute: Dover Quartet Plays Mozart (CD review)

Quartets K.589, K.590; Quintet K. 406. Dover Quartet. Cedille CDR 90000 167.

The Dover Quartet is a group of young people who formed their string quartet several years ago at the Curtis Institute of Music and then rose to prominence by sweeping the 2013 Banff International String Quartet Competition, taking not only the top prize but the three next awards as well. Since Banff, the quartet has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe, garnering praise wherever they go. The quartet members are Joel Link, violin; Bryan Lee, violin; Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, viola; and Camden Shaw, cello.

"Tribute: Dover Quartet Plays Mozart" is their debut album, and it couldn't have worked out better for them. They made the album in tribute to their mentors and inspiration, the Guarneri Quartet (1964-2009), who fifty years earlier recorded the same two Mozart quartets included on this disc. In addition, the Dovers have added Mozart's K. 406 Quintet, with none other than a member of the (now disbanded) Guarneri Quartet, Michael Tree, on viola. It's a happy conflux of music and players.

The program begins with the String Quartet No. 22 in B-flat major, K. 589 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). He wrote it in 1790, the second of three string quartets commissioned by and dedicated to the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II. They were also the final quartets Mozart wrote before this death, and the music firm Artaria published them posthumously in 1791.

The "Prussian Quartets" are largely sweet and melodious, which is how the Dover Quartet plays them. One hears in their approach the influence of their advisers, the Guarneri Quartet, whose own style critics often characterized as rich, warm, refined, and smooth yet uniquely individual, spirited, impassioned, and always executed with flawless technique. I would use these same words to describe the Dover Quartet's playing, and, if anything, even more so. The playing is remarkably precise yet vibrantly alive. The one recording of No. 22 I had on hand for comparison was with the Alban Berg Quartet on Teldec, another fine record. To take nothing away from the Alban Berg Quartet, the Dovers seem a degree more lively and the sound a tad more lifelike to me.

The Dover Quartet
Next, we get the String Quartet No. 23 in F major, K. 590. While it is every bit as graceful a work as No. 22, it appears a bit more extrovert and virtuosic, too. There are moments of quiet introspection, moments of seemingly wild joy and abandon, and moments of surpassing tranquility. Needless to say, the Dover Quartet capture every minute of it with a passionate clarity.

The last selection is Mozart's String Quintet No. 2 in C minor, K. 406, written in 1787. Mozart transcribed it from his earlier Serenade No. 12 for Wind Octet, K. 388, scoring it for a quartet and an extra viola, here played, as I've said, by the Guarneri's Michael Tree. It would have been just as easy to include the third of the Prussian quartets, but I'm glad they decided to do the quintet with Mr. Tree instead. With every instrument distinctly individual yet blending perfectly as a whole, the playing of the piece makes a touchingly delightful final tribute to the Guarneris and Mozart.

Cedille Records package the disc in a fold-over Digipak case, and they enclose in it a particularly enlightening booklet of notes by Dover member Camden Shaw and others.

Producer and engineer Judith Sherman and editor Bill Maylone made the 24-bit digital recording at the Miriam & Robert Gould Rehearsal Hall, Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, PA in December 2015. As we might have expected from a record company that has been producing so many excellent recordings over the years, this one sounds terrific. The sonics are well defined, the instruments well integrated, the distancing a tad close but response never bright or edgy. First-rate transparency, superb balance, the whole is as natural and realistic as one could want. Another superb recording from Cedille.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa