Saturday night at Rockport the Dover Quartet commenced with a most affecting work: Mozart’s Quartet no. 19 in C Major, K465 “Dissonance,” whose unusual introduction yields the piece’s nickname. It is perhaps the most famous of Mozart’s quartets and the last in the set of six composed between 1782 and 1785 that he dedicated to Joseph Haydn. The first movement opens with quiet Cs in the cello, joined successively by the other players, thus creating the “dissonance” itself. This lack of harmony and constant key continues throughout the slow introduction before resolving into the bright C major of the Allegro section. The second movement is written in sonatina form, i.e., lacking the development section. The third movement is a minuet and trio, with the exuberant mood of the minuet darkening into the C minor of the trio. The last movement is also in sonata form. Overall, the Dover Quartet struck a nice balance between a warm, smooth, and long-lined sound and historically informed practice articulations.
Ravel completed his only string quartet in early April of 1903 at the age of 28. It follows a four-movement classical structure: the opening movement Allegro moderato – très doux, in sonata form, presents two contrasting themes that occur again later in the work; The first, rising and falling through a long arc, is played by all four players at the opening and taken over by the first violin, accompanied by harmonies in the lower instruments. The second theme is intoned by the first violin and viola playing two octaves apart. The development section is predominantly lyrical, gaining intensity before the recapitulation. The return of the second theme is subtly changed, the pace slows and the movement ends very quietly. A playful scherzo second movement Assez vif – très rythmé follows, opening with a pizzicato passage, echoes Ravel’s Spanish decent. The central section of this movement is a slow, wistful theme led by the cello. The movement concludes with a shortened recollection of the opening theme. The lyrical slow movement Très lent changes the tempo multiple times despite the marking “very slow.” The viola introduces the first theme, which the first violin then repeats. The players underlined 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 finale Vif et agité reintroduces themes from the earlier movements as it reverts to the F major of the first movement loosely 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 calm sections, but the work ends vigorously. The foursome combined great accuracy with the creation of a true French sound; they achieved a variety of atmospheric colors and an aura reminiscent of Debussy and Fauré.
Dvořák’s Quintet No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97 “American,” opens with a purely pentatonic Allegro ma non troppo. The movement develops harmonically, but still displaying openness and simplicity. The second theme is ornamented with elements reminiscent of Gypsy or Czech music. The piece moves to a development section that is much more dramatic in tempo and color. The theme of the second movement (Lento) is the one that has most resemblance to American Indian tunes. Dvořák develops this thematic material in an extended middle section, then repeats the theme in the cello with an even thinner accompaniment that is alternately bowed and pizzicato. The third movement (Molto vivace) is a variation of the traditional scherzo, full of off-beats and cross-rhythms, giving it a pulsing character. As in previous movement, the Finale: Vivace ma non troppo provided another opportunity for the first violinist to display his lyrical beauty and for the group to show its unison as it contrasted different motives and continued in the spirit of the first theme. Barry Shiffman, the artistic director of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival joined the Dover for this enthusiastically received closer.
The Grammy-nominated Dover Quartet, winner of the 2013 Banff Competition and Cleveland award, is currently the Penelope P. Watkins Ensemble in Residence at Curtis Institute and holds residencies with the Kennedy Center and the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern. The Quartet members studied at the Curtis Institute and Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. The Quartet first formed at Curtis, and its name pays tribute to Dover Beach by fellow Curtis alumnus Samuel Barber.