Dover Quartet, touring with its new violist, gives radiant concert for Ensemble Music

In his concise oral program notes from the stage, Camden Shaw proposed a theme linking the three pieces the Dover Quartet played in its concert Wednesday night for the Ensemble Music Society.

Dover Quartet on the move
The string quartet's cellist admitted that it's a stretch sometimes to impose a thematic interpretation on a program, but he ventured that the music by Joaquin Turina, Leos Janacek, and Franz Schubert has in common the composers' attempts to "work through something in their minds." The vagueness of that wording nonetheless applied well to what the Dovers offered the audience at the Indiana History Center.

He was alluding to how dangerous life's tasks, whether self-imposed or not, can be to carry out or even move toward resolution. Composers work with problems that aren't purely musical, in other words, and they do so through mastery of their craft. By extension, these chronologically distant masterpieces apply well to the magnified uncertainties and challenges we all face in 2024.

The concert opened with the Spanish composer's intimate probe into a bullfighter's anxiety in "La Oracio del Torero," op. 24. The piece's sotto voce opening created the atmosphere of quiet confidence mixed with dread in the matador's mind. Joel Link's playing of the first-violin part conveyed the dramatic tension with a recitative-like urgency. The music moves toward explicit anticipation of the struggle between man and bull to come, then moves into a mood of invocation that has a deceptive dreamlike quality, masking the urgency of the bullfighter's prayer for a successful outcome.

Link and his colleagues — cellist Shaw, second violinist Bryan Lee, and new-member violist Julianne Lee (no relation) — carried their adaptability and investment in the special qualities of each selection forward into Janacek's Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters"). In this piece, the composer's infatuation with a woman he wasn't married to was exercised through a massive exchange of letters. The four-movement composition that amounted to his representation in music of this obsession paints with a broad brush, as well as a delicate one.

The mood swings are abrupt and sometimes drastic. The Dovers entered into this volatile atmosphere with full commitment. A slow, tender melody for viola gave Julianne Lee a showcase that still remained within the ensemble texture to put across the implausible cohesiveness of the work. The ensemble's internal rapport was unshakable in the stop-start progress of the short second movement. In the folkish feeling of the third movement, Link's violin soared boldly, nailing the irrepressible scope of Janacek's unrequited passion, with the fourth movement a kind of protracted coda ending quizzically.

All the Dovers' picturesque accuracy in the Turina and Janacek works was expansively laid out in Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet in D minor, which occupied the concert's second half.  I want to focus on three of the Andante con moto variations plus the movement's conclusion, each of which was a superior illustration of how manipulation of a theme can reveal various aspects of its possibilities. The first that captivated me wholly was the one with the cello paraphrasing the song; Shaw's playing was held within an appropriate embrace of the song's pathos, perfectly balanced with his colleagues' accompaniment figures. 

The "hunting-horn" variation that followed, with its pervasive fanfares, was superbly balanced. I loved the way, here and elsewhere in this movement, the repeats were varied, not merely restated. In the next variation, a kind of drone writing for the cello built in coordination with the other three players to  overwhelming effect. It led to a conclusion, so evenly poised at the lowest level of audibility, that it seemed to be death's voice saying to the maiden, "You know I've won, don't you?" 

It's just one instance of the short-lived Schubert working something out in his own fertile mind. The Dover Quartet couldn't have represented it better than they did here Wednesday.


Popular posts from this blog

Actors Theatre Indiana romps through a farce — unusually, without a founder in the cast

Indianapolis Opera presents 'A Little Night Music,' a sexy comedy of Scandinavian manners

DK's 'Divas A-New': What's past is prologue (so is what's present)