The Dover Quartet brought strong play in diverse repertoire to Maverick Concerts in Woodstock on Sunday. Although there were moments when the ensemble’s enthusiasm seemed a little overbearing, it’s hard to argue with an excess of enthusiasm!
The concert opened with Haydn, always a good thing: the Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No. 5. We were immediately reminded of this group’s impeccable balance, every voice prominent and audible. Although the Dovers’ violist is the only woman in the group (Milena Pajaro-Van de Stadt), she is as far from a shrinking violet as you could imagine. And she told us proudly that the viola she was playing had been lent to her by the family of Boris Kroyt, longtime violist of the Budapest Quartet. (So it’s the same instrument I used to hear at People’s Symphony Concerts in New York in the 1950s!)
Haydn’s rather dramatic changes of mood in this first movement were strongly emphasized by the Dovers’ playing but not exaggerated. The sound in the Minuetto was very full-bodied and delicious, and in the Adagio, simply gorgeous, meltingly beautiful. But in the fugal finale, containing some of Haydn’s most ingenious writing, extreme contrasts sounded almost as though the ensemble was confusing Haydn with Beethoven. It’s not that I esteem Haydn less than Beethoven—or anybody—but that I somehow think of his music as being at a little lower volume level than Beethoven’s. This quartet apparently doesn’t agree, and I’m not comfortable criticizing performers for taking Haydn too seriously. Maybe my discomfort was a good thing here.
As part of Maverick’s summer-long “Americans in Paris” series, the Dover Quartet was joined at this point by baritone Andrew Garland, who sang two works by Americans with European connections. Ned Rorem’s connections with Paris were profound. Samuel Barber spent his overseas time in Rome as winner of the American Prix de Rome, an award still given annually by the American Academy there. His Dover Beach must be close to the hearts of the Dover Quartet since they named themselves after it. Garland sang with quiet and dignified expression, but I thought there was a balance problem, as the instrumentalists’ enthusiasm tended to swamp the singer. Though Garland’s enunciation was excellent, the text did not come across.
After intermission, we met the “American in Paris” Ned Rorem’s “Mourning Scene from Samuel,” based on passages from the Book of Samuel. This early (1947) Rorem was new to everybody involved, as well as to the Maverick. As the summer’s focus on Rorem continues, my education in his music does too. His quartet writing seemed even more interesting than Barber’s. and Garland’s intense singing came through more clearly than in the Barber. Here I could understand the text
Dvořák’s Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105 is actually the composer’s last quartet, although its opus number is one lower than the next-to last quartet. This sprawling piece, runs well over half an hour and provides glories in every moment. It’s also more harmonically adventurous than the composer’s norm, indicating his future direction (operas and symphonic poems, no more “absolute” music).
The Dover’s evinced string orchestra sonority which sounded like just what the composer wanted. The emphasis on contrasts worked very well here, especially in the second movement. The third movement Lento positively floated. And in the dramatic finale, the dance rhythms were so pronounced I was almost surprised that nobody in this freewheeling Woodstock audience got up and boogied. The structure of this movement is particularly rambling but the performance held it together very well.
Stamping and cheering brought the Dover Quartet back out for an encore, the familiar “Nocturne” from Borodin’s Second Quartet. It was lovely, and served to calm us all down so that we could drive home safely.
Leslie Gerber, who lives in Woodstock, New York, has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.