Since countless world-class Beethoven quartet cycles crowd the catalog, the proverbial bar invariably ascends with each new contender. Purely on a technical level, the Dover Quartet plays Beethoven’s six Op. 18 quartets as well as any ensemble on disc, and often better. They’ve clearly gone over every measure with a fine-tooth comb.
Intonation is spotless on all fronts; balances between instruments convey Beethoven’s contrapuntal thinking in thoughtful foreground/background perspective (Op. 18 No. 1’s slow movement, for example); vibrato is meted out with the utmost specificity and uniformity between players. These words also apply to scrupulous ensemble attacks and releases. Furthermore, the musicians observe Beethoven’s frequently combative dynamic contrasts to the letter. One characteristic instance can be found in the G major Op. 18 No. 2’s finale, when the cello assumes the main theme in the minor mode and the first violin proclaims a countermelody. Usually one of these two elements dominates, yet both emerge on equal footing here.
The C major Op. 18 No. 4 second movement’s imitative writing can often sound dry or cluttered, yet the players infuse their detaché articulation with subtle colorations. Also note the B-flat Op. 18 No. 6 Scherzo’s controlled vehemence, as the ensemble’s deft cross-rhythmic navigation upends your sense of where the bar lines are.
Sometimes an overly earnest quality comes across in the playing, such as in the Op. 18 No. 1 Scherzo’s outsize dynamics and slight over-phrasings, in contrast to lighter and simpler interpretations from the Alban Berg Quartett and the Cuarteto Casals. The same holds true for their relatively massive A major Op. 18 No. 5 first movement when measured alongside the Takacs Quartet’s suppler rendition. Also compare the latter’s genial, lilting D major Op. 18 No. 5 Scherzo with the Dover’s smoother yet heavier legato phrasing. These, of course, add up to minor reservations in light of the Dover Quartet’s overall distinction, together with Cedille’s superb sonics.