Review: Dover Quartet Delivers Loveliness at Galvin Hall

The Dover Quartet gave a lovely concert at Galvin Hall in Evanston on Wednesday night. It was homecoming in a sense, as they are the quartet-in-residence of Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music.

As reviewed here, Dover Quartet recently released an amazing conclusion of their recordings of the Beethoven Quartets on Cedille Records. The ingredients that made those recordings so special were everywhere onstage Wednesday night. They also withstood a line-up change. Violist Hezekiah Leung joined the group in September 2022. With Joel Link and Bryan Lee on violin and Camden Shaw on cello, the Dover Quartet showcased tight ensemble interaction on Wednesday night.

They skillfully brought out all the emotions requested by the composers on the program, which did not include Beethoven. Instead, they performed great works by three other masters of the string quartet: Franz Josef Haydn, Antonin Dvořák, and Felix Mendelssohn. All of them were in E-flat Major, which, as cellist Camden Shaw hinted, was inadvertent. As always, the setting of Galvin Hall and its windows on the shimmering Chicago skyline added mood to the moment.  

Dover Quartet. Photo by Elliot Mandel.

Haydn is the man credited with perfecting the string quartet as an art form, and his quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33 no. 2, opened the concert. He considered the six works comprising Op. 33 to represent a new style in composition. Published in 1782, these quartets are lighter in feel than the Op. 20 set published ten years earlier. Haydn also substituted scherzos for the more traditional dance minuets, an idea that Beethoven would appropriate 15 years later.

Because of the unexpected way it ends, this quartet has been dubbed “the Joke,” and the Dover Quartet found its maximum effect. Unfortunately, while ending this quartet well, they didn’t start it well. The concert’s only blemish was a very brusque, in-your-face approach to the opening movement. Better would have been a more delicate approach that builds in intensity. They certainly found the right feeling by the Scherzando second movement, the trio of which has a joke when the first violinist sliding between notes.

Following the Haydn they stayed onstage for the next work, Antonin Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat Major, Op. 51. Before starting, Shaw explained how tender the first three movements are. He also expressed some sadness that this piece is less performed than other quartets by Dvořák. I would add that few of the excellent quartets by this Czech master are performed at all, much to our loss.

As the Dover Quartet demonstrated in their recordings, tenderness is a feeling at which this ensemble excels. Their performance of the opening movement just oozed a delicate warmth. The breadth of their passion was apparent in the second movement Dumka (Elegia), as it alternated between wistful and frolic sections. Dvořák’s music contains many dumka movements, which, as Shaw explained, is a folk-inspired concept that originated in Ukraine.

Dover Quartet at Galvin Hall. Photo by Elliot Mandel.

Folksiness pervades the music of Dvořák, and the finale keeps it going. While not tender, it does start out rather lightly. Dover Quartet wonderfully provided the right intensity, which builds through to the final notes.  

After intermission Mendelssohn’s String Quartet no. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 44 no. 3, provided the perfect palette for Dover’s amazing ensemble interaction. In the opening movement, Mendelssohn takes a four-note motif and weaves in the different voices in a way that seems to be heading toward an atonal wall, but he brings it back to a marvelous consonance. It requires tight, precise playing for this to come through, and Dover Quartet came prepared.

The weaving continues in the Scherzo, which has fugal sections the Dover Quartet played well. The slow movement allowed reflection, and the finale let it all go. On the whole, it was a great way to end an enjoyable evening with marvelously talented group.

Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music hosts many concerts and musical events.  For more information click here.

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Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world. Member of the Music Critics Association of North America.