National Post

Concert Review: The Dover Quartet put on a terrific performance at the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto

Arthur Kaptainis

The grand prize at the Banff International String Quartet Competition brings with it more than money. Radio exposure on the CBC is one benefit (although Banff does all its own recording). Another is a gig with the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto, which is to say a chance to play for hundreds of unusually experienced listeners who do not clap between movements.

The Dover Quartet, victorious in 2013, took full advantage of the opportunity last week in Walter Hall. This was confident, sinewy playing of distinctive sound and ample nuance. You can even add maturity into the mix of compliments, curiously enough given that the players are in their mid-20s.

They obviously understood the multiple levels of meaning in the finale of Haydn’s Quartet Op. 76 No. 1 in G Major. A start in the minor is the first of many quirks in this remarkable movement. Scowls must seem not entirely earnest; trills must bark more than they bite. All this came across. The start-and-stop coda had the crowd chuckling — more than 200 years after the composer first told the joke.

There were fine things also in the assertive first movement (with first violin Joel Link in subtle alpha mode) and the prayerful Adagio. Next came Terra Memoria, 17-minute quartet in one movement of 2006 by the Finnish superstar Kaija Saariaho. This was a relatively transparent and accessible piece, a plethora of modern techniques notwithstanding. Goodness, the viola near the end broke out with a folksy tune that sounded like something from the Bartóksongbook.

Happily, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt has a beguiling sound, so there was pleasure to be had here. And elsewhere. Clusters were projected with such precision they could be analyzed by the ear as chords. Super-soft sepia effects –Saariaho’s subject being memory and its vagaries – were also very fine. Yet the superb execution somehow made the episodic nature of the music all the more evident. We do not need to hear Terra Memoria again.

Cellist Camden Shaw gave the audience a pep talk about this “really cool” piece. Sure. After intermission we got Beethoven’s Op. 127, the first and perhaps least discussed of the late quartets. Chords at the opening were predictably robust. The Dovers certainly create a warm, weighty sound.

With its staggered entries, the Adagio gave each player an introduction. All (including second violin Bryan Lee) were found to be excellent. Indeed, the part writing could be appreciated at a visceral level. Walnut turned to steel in the final two movements, both brilliantly done. These Curits grads could make a career for themselves playing exactly this way. I hope they continue to search.

A note about the name: Apparently “Dover” was chosen for its American overtones, Dover Beach being a noted composition by Samuel Barber. Well, it is an even more noted poem by Matthew Arnold, which refers to a still more noted English coastline. Anyway, nice name. Terrific quartet.