Sunday, July 28, 2019

Edgar Meyer shines bright with the Dover Quartet

Edgar Meyer
Monday July 22 saw the great contrabassist Edgar Meyer join the Dover Quartet for a spectacular performance going into the final week of the CMNW Summer Festival. The program featured works by Bach, Brahms and a composition of Meyer's own.

Sonata No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1027 (in this case played by Katie Hyun on violin, Camden Shaw cello and Edgar Meyer on contrabass) opened the everning. It was fascinating to hear the sonata without a continuo as one thinks of it, but with two independent melodic instruments forming the support for the violin.

Meyer found the most dulcet timbre imaginable on his intrument. All three performers were able to bring pitch-perfect accuracy to the most dissonant and abstruse harmonic developments, as surely as if it were a 3-voice fugue played on a clavier. Meyer's ceaselessly gentle yet insistent mezzo-staccato was a thing of beauty. In the finale the pizzicato from the bass was so delicately and intuitively phrased--the perfect symmetry and balance cannot be overstated.

The approachable complexity of the composition required that all three perform at an equally high level to properly realize it, and the result was elegant, energetic and indescribably lovely. Absolutely everything that is best and most beautiful about baroque chamber music was present in this small ensemble.

Meyer's String Quintet (1995) opened with a gossamer Appalachian reverie. Consisting of the Dover Quartet plus Meyer, the texture was incredibly full-throated while still being gentle.  As the movement morphed into a more somber rallentando, Meyer sawed away in what could only be described as a rally into a hoe-down, and the group thundered together in primitive chordal phrases.

The second movement started as a funky blues tune, with both bass and cello having at it. Eerie sul ponticello wails from the violins presented a disturbing emotional counterpoint to the grooviness going on elsewhere. At one point Meyer had the bass neighing like a horse. The quirky, personalized nature of the composition was always present.

 In the third, viola and cello played in chilling unison while strange, warped glissandi from the bass interrupted the plaintive monodic somnolence. The finale began with ceaseless trills and tremolandi, while ominous, syncopated pedal point grumbling from Meyer lay underneath. The entire work seemed, from a technical standpoint, a loving and intensely fascinating study into the textures and effects of a string ensemble employing jazz, blues and bluegrass idioms.

Brahms String Quintet in G Major, Op 3, formed the second half of the evening. This time it was the Dover Quartet plus Paul Neubauer on the extra viola. The glorious sawing from Shaw on his cello was accompanied by a strident molto vibrato from all, forming a vision of pure fire and passion. Mysterious and subdued, the players all carefully held back in the second movement, lending a feeling of quiet tension, like a coiled spring. The poco allegretto played like a grandiose serenade. It is fascinating how the addition of one more bowed instrument, of whatever kind, transforms the sonic possibilities of a string quartet from a chamber ensemble to that of what is essentially a small string orchestra. The amazing ensemble playing displayed a deep and intimate understanding not only of how he or she could sound, but of how they could and should sound. The Dover Quartet has never disappointed in all the times I've seen them, and this was no exception.

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