Bruce Hodges hears the performance of Haydn, Florence Price and Shostakovich at the Perelman Theater, Philadelphia, PA, US, on 14 January 2024 

Thrills from the Dover Quartet. Photo: Alex Brown

I first heard this formidable group live at the Americas Society in New York in 2014, shortly after it had won the Grand Prize in the Banff International String Quartet Competition. Its unique Viennese suavity has stuck with me for the past decade and anticipation was high for a second outing. This appearance in the intimate Perelman Theater for a capacity crowd did not disappoint. The cheering began when cellist Camden Shaw mentioned the group’s Philadelphia roots: all four musicians – including violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, as well as violist Julianne Lee – are graduates of the Curtis Institute, and currently the school’s ensemble-in-residence.

The group opened with Haydn’s Quartet in G minor op.74, no.3, ‘Rider’, done with sparkle and refinement, along with intonation that would be the envy of any ensemble. Then the cellist offered a brief background on Florence Price’s Quartet in G major (1929), of which two memorable movements survive. As an invaluable artefact of the early 20th century, it confirms Price’s status in the American firmament.

But it was Shostakovich’s String Quartet no.9 that was the climax of the afternoon. In a tense half hour, it shows the composer’s piercing mix of seriousness and manic intensity at its peak. The final movement was particularly memorable, the foursome escalating the pace in a breathtaking race to the finish.