Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review: Dover Quartet and Emanuel Ax at Zankel Hall (and a few updates)

Carnegie didn't have a photographer for the concert, so I'm reusing photos from Dover's
Caramoor concert this summer. Sue me. (Actually, please please don't.) [PC: Gabe Palacio]

WHO: Dover Quartet; Emanuel Ax, piano
WHAT: BRITTEN String Quartet No. 1; BRAHMS String Quartet No. 3; SCHUMANN Piano Quintet
WHERE: Zankel Hall @ Carnegie
WHEN: October 15, 2019 at 7:30pm

First update: I'm on Twitter now! Follow me at to keep up with all of CMG's adventures!

Second update: I made it to October break in (more or less) one piece. And you know what that means: another concert binge.

I know I've been making noise about a ten-concerts-in-five-days October blitz. But a couple weeks ago, after one too many nights staying up until 3am doing schoolwork, I looked at the list of ten concerts I had planned and only one thought popped into my head:

"This feels like a bad idea."

So I'm only going to seven (maybe eight) concerts this break. And I'm going to blog about all of them, but it's not going to be a formal concert blitz. I'm just going to blog for fun. You know, like a normal blogger -- quality over quantity (what the hell was I on when I thought up of #1Summer50Concerts?). The reviews will come out over the next few weeks.

I love finding ways to put off schoolwork. So, a few weeks ago, when I should have been writing papers, I reached out on a whim to the Carnegie press office, asking if they had any extra tickets for this particular concert. They were so nice, but the gist of what they said was: "Get in line."

Yesterday morning, literally the day of the concert, I got the coveted email: there's an extra ticket, it's yours if you want it, just let me know. I squealed. My breakfast date (Sarah, I know you're reading this) rolled her eyes and didn't talk to me for the rest of the meal.

I dropped my alternate concert plans (we all have those, don't we?) and booked it to Carnegie as soon as my train got in (twenty minutes late, by the way). I sat down and looked around; for the first time in who knows how long, I didn't recognize a single other person in the audience.

I see good concerts all the time. I see great concerts less often, but still regularly. But only once in a while do I see a concert and think, "Wow, that was stupid good."

Well, the Dovers are stupid good.

 PC: Carlin Ma

Okay, confession time. You may recall that I reviewed the Dover Quartet this summer for Opera News, but I couldn't really tell you guys what I thought because I didn't want to give the magazine old news. Well, that review is now in print, so I can say whatever I want. So full disclosure: I've known that the Dover Quartet was fantastic for, like, four months now. But now I can finally say it loud and proud: I'm a diehard Dover fan.

Of course, I'm glad I got to see this whole program. But I'm especially glad that I got to hear the Dovers' take on Britten. Outlandish but not wholly unfollowable, Britten's first quartet proved the perfect canvas for Dover to release their inner cheekiness. The quartet managed to invoke that dry British sense of humor in a way that was full, unfettered, and most importantly, entertaining. The tender violin duets of the first movement were so theatrically interrupted by bawdy prestos that there may as well have been a laugh track. Cellist Camden Shaw's eyebrows tracked the satire through the off-kilter scherzo. The slow movement highlighted violist Milena Pájaro-van de Stadt's flawless playing (to quote the older European gentleman sitting next to me: "Viola playing doesn't get much better than that!"). And the blazing three-minute finale brought everything to a close with adequate pomp and circumstance.

Oh yeah, the Brahms was also great. But like...the Britten.

This is how Barber originally wrote the Adagio for Strings before revising it
twice (once for string orchestra, once for choir). I think it's best for quartet.

And then there was the Schumann. It takes one hell of a quartet to be a match for Emanuel Ax, and I've seen instances where Ax plays with a chamber group that is most certainly not up to his level. But this was perfect. Dover is very new-school, Ax is very old-school, and the collaboration let each explore aspects of the other's playing. The quartet was a little bit warmer and rounder; Ax kept his crisp touch, but was lighter on the pedal than usual. The result was a harmonious tone that could only be described not as the Dover Quartet, not as Emanuel Ax, but as "the Dover Quartet with Emanuel Ax."

The performance was so fantastic that I barely noticed the faint, but ever-present sound of the NQRW trains roaring past the underground Zankel Hall. Whose bright idea was that, again?


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