Listening to the Dover Quartet and their new album, The Curtis Session, I’m reminded of a time in my life when I listened to a lot of string quartets. I was young, single and living alone in Encino in a one-bedroom apartment with relatively thin walls. I was a budding audiophile back then, but I’d had a couple of bad experiences with neighbors who knocked on my door whenever I sneezed too loud, so I needed a solution–other than headphones, of course–so that I could pursue my hobby. That’s when I became a fan of small British monitors and modest integrated amplifiers. I wanted my sound to have quality without the possibility of eviction. So I listened to a lot of string quartets. I grew to love them.
The Dover Quartet is composed of young musicians–violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and cellist Camden Shaw. They’ve been touring extensively and they’ve been winning awards. They remind me of the Kronos Quartet, back in the Joan Jeanrenaud days–they’re musically adept and adventurous, and they can pursue a number of different styles and emotions in an almost effortless manner. The Curtis Session is named after the Curtis Institute, where these four recorded Eric Sessler‘s four-part Dreams from life awake for the first time back in 2013. This was recorded after their debut concert at the Kimmel Center, and the performance was so “relaxed and focused” that it became sort of an epiphany for them. Now we have that performance here for the first time.
Sessler’s work is lively and dynamic, with many moods and tempos. The structure is based upon chords that each player takes up before fading, only to have another member take up the same progression. That gives Dreams from life awake that very dreamlike quality, of slow dissolves that blend in spite of time and space. By the time the fourth part, named “determination-energy-resolve,” is reached, there is a power and a momentum to the Dover Quartet that is furious and elated at the same time, a dance that grows ever faster and wilder.
That brings me back to my original point about audiophilia and apartment living–this was the type of recording I’d treasure, so full of energy and excitement yet something I could keep completely to myself, like a secret. The days have long passed where I had to worry about my neighbors pounding on the door, but there’s such a satisfying feel to a string quartet that ebbs and flows. I also love the fact that the Dover Quartet is focused on a single composition for this release. Some string quartets, and I include the Kronos Quartet, often come at you from a million different directions. Sessler’s work is quite nourishing on its own, and these four musicians are now on my radar. They’re the real thing.