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Classical Album of the Week: Shining Bright, The Dover Quartet Plays Beethoven's Opus 18 Quartets

December 14, 2020. It’s been a turbulent year, but a glowing and glimmering note for Philadelphia has been the continued skyrocketing success of the young Dover Quartet. And just in time for Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary celebration, the first installment of the ensemble's complete Beethoven String Quartets cycle was released over the summer.

In October, the Dover Quartet was named Ensemble in Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music, where they met as students and began to play together as a group. (Of local note, second violinist Bryan Lee grew up in our listening area, and trained as a young teen at Temple University Music Prep’s pre-college program.) The Dovers have been nominated for a 2021 GRAMMY award for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance in recognition of their album, The Schumann Quartets. They are the subjects of a fascinating new documentary, Strings Attached. Check it out here:

The Dovers' career took off in 2013 after they swept all the prizes at the 11th Banff International String Quartet Competition, and are acclaimed for their technical finesse, a beautifully balanced sound, and expressive phrasing that emulates the warmth and sensitivity of older quartets such as the Guarneri.

All these qualities are in the spotlight in the Dover Quartet’s rendition of the Opus 18 String Quartets of Beethoven, released this year by Cedille Records. The Opus 18 are Beethoven’s first published set of string quartets. Following in Haydn’s and Mozart’s footsteps, he wrote six in the opus, and dedicated them to Prince Josef Franz Maximilian Lobkowitz, who commissioned them, and who became an important patron of Beethoven’s.

The Dovers’ sense of timing, their naturalness of phrasing and sense of breathing as one instrument are especially admirable in quiet movements like the Adagio cantabile of String Quartet in G Major, Opus 18, No. 2. 

Their command of power and coiled excitement  is in full display in the dramatic Quartet in C minor, Opus 18, No. 4.

And for a sense of how they manage one of the thorniest of Beethoven’s interpretive challenges, you need listen no further than the final movement of String Quartet No. 6 in B-flat. Beethoven marks it La malinconia, “Melancholy.”  This movement begins with profoundly personal writing, then moves into a questioning, increasingly impassioned dialogue amongst the instruments. Suddenly, a seemingly happy, fast dance in 3 breaks out, only to return to the melancholy questioning again. The surprise coda shows the Dovers at their technically brilliant best.

The Dover Quartet’s mastery of these mood changes promises great listening in their recordings of  Beethoven’s later string quartets, still to come.

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.