Music review: Dover Quartet performance ‘an exerci… – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Dover Quartet is one of the most lauded string quartets of the new generation, acclaimed not just for its accomplished playing but also for its innovative programming and imaginative interpretations.

In an offbeat and varied concert that opened Chamber Music Pittsburgh’s season in Carnegie Music Hall Sunday afternoon, the Dover musicians – violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and cellist Camden Shaw – quickly established their credentials in Haydn’s fragmentary String Quartet in D Minor (Op. 103).

What Haydn composed and then abandoned comprises two middle movements of a never-completed string quartet. In the present rendition, the andante grazioso was sweet toned and precise; the minuet was incisive and characterized by dynamic contrasts and gradations between soft and loud. These qualities, along with a prevalent sense that each member had complete control of his or her instrument, would pervade the entire event.

But that was not all. The concert also showcased guest artist and composer Edgar Meyer, arguably the No. 1 double bass soloist on the scene today. Mr. Meyer first showed his chops as a performer, joining cellist Shaw in Rossini’s Duet for Cello and Double Bass, an utterly captivating three-movement sonata-like piece that is quite unlike anything else in the repertory.

Their performance was an exercise in virtuosity but also a gleeful display of humor and the joy of doing the thing they love best. Whether accompanying the cellist in a thumpy rhythmic foundation or going out on brief bouts of his own, Mr. Meyer was a jovial partner to the equally vital Mr. Shaw. For his part, the cellist aurally embodied with equal flair, as the music demanded from him, a bel canto diva proclaiming lyrical melodies, or an impish prankster in the best opera buffa manner.

Mr. Meyer acted as participant and composer on the second half, joining the Dover Quartet in his juicy, totally amiable Quintet for Strings and Double Bass. This is a significant addition to the repertory, spanning the gamut of emotions and a plethora of musical styles.

As a composer, Mr. Meyer is known for incorporating jazz, bluegrass and the folk music of his own Tennessee roots into so-called “classical” music. For the most part of this opus, the result is a pleasant amalgam. The opening movement is built on a lilting three-note motif, shared by all the instruments in loose variations form, marked by repetition and set into relief by a showy cadenza for the double bass – that is, for Mr. Meyer himself – approximately midway. The delightful second movement is filled with jazzy rhythms and witty sidebars, while the third movement restores a serious mien. Jazz and bluegrass return in the ebullient finale.

Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F Major (Op. 96), the only standard repertory piece on the program, has been nicknamed his “American” Quartet, because it was written in 1893 during the composer’s three-year visit to the United States. In contrast to Mr. Meyer’s work, however, its “American” qualities are ersatz. Some of the appealing melodies were hypothetically adapted from African-American music of that time, but Dvorak’s idea of American music was limited to intermittent use of the pentatonic (five-note) scale, and a generalized depiction in sound of the Great Plains.

His compositional style remained Germanic and his rhythmic quirks rooted in his native Bohemia – which is not at all to detract from the virtues of the work on its own merits. It’s pleasant listening from first note to last, and the enthusiastic Dover performers gave it a merry romp.

Robert Croan is a Post-Gazette senior editor.


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