After being simply blown away by the Dover Quartet's recent 2-disc set of Beethoven's Opus 18 String Quartets on Cedille Records, I wanted to hear more from them. I was terribly dismayed to find their 2018 disc of Schumann's Quartets was unavailable. Then, suddenly last week, it became available again from Amazon, and sellers such as ImportCDs. I ordered it immediately!
And it is just as good as their Beethoven.
I recently also acquired the 2017 disc of Schumann Quartets as played by Quatuor Modigliani on Mirare. As much as I admire this group (and the label, too), I just was not terribly moved by their Schumann. Oh, it is lovingly played and beautifully recorded, but I kept getting distracted, and found it difficult to get all the way through it. Trying these quartets again, this time from the Dover, was a different matter. It's hard to describe in words what's going on. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with the Modigliani, there is just something about the Dover Quartet. Something special - every time I hear them. It's a passionate simplicity. I know, that seems like a contradiction, but it's how I hear it. And it's similar to what I hear from the Juilliard String Quartet on their new SONY disc (see my review below).
The Dover plays with a complete absence of over-emoting or fussiness. And at the same time, there is an involving, natural outpouring of musical passion and uniform ensemble which are simply marvelous. And at all times, the singing lines are glorious. What a sweet sound this quartet makes when the music calls for it. And they can make a large sound, too, when required, without ever sounding gruff or aggressive. Further, they retain a clarity of texture in these passages which prevents them from becoming thick and heavy. And then, in the next moment, they produce the most exquisite pianissimo. Ah...Magic!
Tempos play an important part in the overall enjoyment of Schumann in general, and particularly with these Quartets. Here, the Dover Quartet scores over their rivals with tempos that just feel right. Adagios never sag, the Andantes move along with a natural forward propulsion, and Allegros are gripping. Suffice it to say, the Dover Quartet elevates Schumann's String Quartets to a new level of masterpiece. If other recordings of them have left me slightly indifferent, the Dover has something new to say about them which changes that perception.
Finally, the production is first class, as is the recorded sound from Azica (a label new to me), which is simply superb - warm, rich, detailed, focused, spacious and airy, within the perfect acoustic. The jewel case is a 3-piece, cardboard fold-out affair, filled with lots of information about the music and musicians. Highly recommended.