An Inexhaustible Source of Superb Quartets  

United StatesUnited States Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Brahms: Dover Quartet, Roberto Diaz (viola), Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 9.12.2014 (BJ)

Beethoven: String Quartet in A major, Op. 18 No. 5
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 7
Brahms: String Quintet in G major, Op. 111

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society’s artistic director, Miles Cohen, and his colleagues seem to have discovered an inexhaustible source of superb string quartets. They didn’t have to go far to find this latest one: the Dover Quartet was formed at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute in 2008, when its original members were 19 years old, and last season it was named the first ever quartet-in-residence at Curtis.

 The evening opened with a crisply articulated yet unfailingly sensitive account of Beethoven’s A-major Quartet—the one whose slow movement is clearly inspired by and imitative of Mozart’s K. 464 Quartet in the same key. In both works, the cello has a particularly important part to play in the slow movement, and Camden Shaw did not disappoint, making the most of his opportunities with well-focused tone and aptly witty phrasing.

 Both violinists, Joel Link and Bryan Lee, similarly combined technical aplomb with a fine feeling for Beethovenish expression, and they were sufficiently contrasted in tone to clarify the composer’s often complex textures. And in the middle register, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt’s warmly burnished and vividly colored viola tone lent the ensemble a distinctly individual and attractive sonority.

 All these virtues were evident also in Shostakovich’s Seventh Quartet. Though short in playing time, and with an often fragmentary texture featuring frequent disruptive silences, this is a powerfully eloquent work, and hearing it made a welcome change from the Eighth, which is perhaps not quite wonderful enough to justify its place as the most frequently played of the composer’s fifteen quartets.

 After intermission, Curtis’s president and director, Roberto Diaz, formerly principal viola of the Philadelphia orchestra, joined his protégés in a splendidly intense performance of the second of Brahms’s string quintets. The players of the four upper parts judiciously fined their fortissimo down a shade after the work’s emphatic opening phrase to enable Camden Shaw to make a proper impact with the cello part, which Reinhold Hummer of the Rosé Quartet despaired of making audible at the work’s premiere. Ms Pajaro-van de Stadt amply earned the honor of playing first viola to her eminent mentor’s second, especially with her passionate projection of the slow movement’s melancholy theme. Altogether, except for a tendency for big multi-stopped chords to be bitten off rather harshly and not warmly enough, this was a performance that fully realized the individuality of Brahms’s often idiosyncratic rhythmic language and the impeccable balance of his textures.

 Bernard Jacobson