Friday night in Rockport, the Dover Quartet opened with a most touching work: Quartet no. 19 in C major, K465 “Dissonance”, whose unusual introduction gives the piece its nickname. It is perhaps the most famous of Mozart’s quartets and the last of a set of six composed between 1782 and 1785 which he dedicated to Joseph Haydn. The first movement opens with quiet Cs on the cello, successively joined by the other musicians, thus creating the “dissonance” itself. This lack of harmony and constant tonality continues throughout the slow introduction before resolving in the brilliant C major of the Allegro section. The second movement is written in sonatina form, that is to say without a development section. The third movement is a minuet and a trio, with the exuberant mood of the minuet darkening in the trio’s C minor. The last movement is also in sonata form. Overall, the Dover Quartet has struck a nice balance between a warm, sweet, long sound and historically informed practice articulations.
Ravel completed his only string quartet in early April 1903 at the age of 28. It follows a classic four-movement structure: the opening movement Allegro moderato – very soft, in sonata form, presents two opposing themes that recur later in the work; The first, rising and falling in a long arc, is played by the four musicians at the start and taken up by the first violin, accompanied by harmonies in the lower instruments. The second theme is intoned by the first violin and the viola playing two octaves apart. The development section is mostly lyrical, gaining intensity before the recapitulation. The return of the second theme is subtly modified, the rhythm slows down and the movement ends very quietly. A playful second movement of scherzo Pretty sharp – very rhythmic follows, opening with a passage in pizzicato, echoes Ravel’s Spanish decency. The middle section of this movement is a slow, melancholy theme led by the cello. The movement ends with an abbreviated recall of the opening theme. The lyrical slow movement very lent changes the tempo several times despite the mention “very slow”. The viola introduces the first theme, which the first violin then repeats. The performers emphasized the strong thematic links with the first movement and expressed the rhapsodic and lyrical elements of this music. The music is rhapsodic and lyrical. The final Lively and restless reintroduces themes from previous movements by freely returning to F major of the first movement in the form of a rondo. The opening bars are stormy, short melodic themes are given rapid tremolandi, and sustained phrases are played against emphatic arpeggios. There are brief moments of quiet sections, but the work ends vigorously. The quartet combined great precision with the creation of a true French sound; they achieved a variety of atmospheric colors and an aura reminiscent of Debussy and Fauré.
Quintet No. 3 in E flat major by Dvořák, Op. 97 “American”, opens with a purely pentatonic Allegro ma non troppo. The movement develops in a harmonious way, but always showing openness and simplicity. The second theme is embellished with elements reminiscent of gypsy or Czech music. The piece moves into a much more dramatic development section in terms of tempo and color. The theme of the second movement (Lento) is the one that most closely resembles Native American tunes. Dvořák develops this thematic material in a long middle section, then repeats the theme in the cello with even finer accompaniment, alternately in bow and pizzicato. The third movement (Molto vivace) is a variation of the traditional scherzo, full of offbeats and cross-rhythms, giving it a thrilling character. As in the previous movement, the Finale: Vivace ma non troppo provided another opportunity for the first violinist to show her lyrical beauty and for the group to show their unison by contrasting different motifs and continuing in the spirit of the first theme. Barry Shiffman, the artistic director of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival has joined the Dover for this merger welcomed with enthusiasm.
The Grammy-nominated, 2013 Banff Competition and Cleveland Award-winning Dover Quartet is currently the Penelope P. Watkins Ensemble-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute and holds residencies at the Kennedy Center and the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern. The members of the Quartet studied at the Curtis Institute and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. The Quartet was first formed at Curtis, and its name pays homage to Dover Beach by Samuel Barber, a former student of Curtis.