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“Tribute” = MOZART: Quartet in B-flat; Quintet in c – Michael Tree, viola/ Dover Quartet – Cedille

Pay close attention to this one, as you are going to hear from them a whole lot more in the near future.

Tribute = MOZART: Quartet in B-flat, K 589; Quintet in c, K 406 – Dover Quartet/ Michael Tree, viola (in Quintet) – Cedille CDR 90000 167, 73:10 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Formed in 2008 at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music (recently appointed the faculty quartet in residence at Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music), this is the Dover Quartet’s debut on disc, and happy the folks at Cedille who landed them. This is an auspicious entry into the recorded legacy of these pieces, and an equally auspicious entry into the glamour and time honored legacy of another quartet, the Guarneri, who themselves debuted in 1966 with an outstanding RCA recording of these same two quartets. Guarneri first violinist Arnold Steinhardt writes an introduction in the notes, and served as a coach to the quartet while still in nascent formation. To round off the circle, Guarneri violist Michael Tree plays second viola in this recording’s Quintet.

It’s perhaps a little unfair to compare this release with that of the mentors, but the Dover comes out very well. Tempos are a little quicker here, as has been the custom for a number of year now, and the Guarneri has an unmatched sense of tonal beauty that was one of their hallmarks, perhaps never to be equaled—you certainly knew when you were listening to them, even blindfolded. The Dover is very, very close to that sort of quality of tone, and their rhythmic incisiveness is even more pronounced, also a hallmark of this wonderful age of string playing that we seem to be living in. I would say that these are lightly assertive readings of tremendous control, providing the energy our days demand but with a throwback to the burnished sound of many of the quartets of old.

The one quintet here, also recorded by the Guarneri years ago on a different disc, belongs to Mozart’s six “viola” quintets, No. 2 in C Minor, K 406 (1788). It’s a little strange in that the string quintet version is not the original form, but an arrangement of the Serenade in C Minor for Winds, K 388/384a. In all honesty I must say that I vastly prefer the original, as Mozart’s genius for color in his wind writing no doubt took a specific musical form in the gestation of this composition. That being said, the Dover is able to add as much variety in the coloration and dramatic impulse of this piece as possible, and it proves a warmly passionate performance of great persuasion, assisted by the able contribution of Michael Tree.

This is a smart debut from a quartet that has a brilliant future ahead of it, and Cedille producer and engineer Judith Sherman has given it her best effort from the Rehearsal Hall at the Curtis Institute in a marvelously detailed and warm recording. Let’s hope for much, much more.

—Steven Ritter

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