Hey Douglas! The question is, what do you want artistically? You certainly can do what you want, but if you’re looking to make things sound “good,” “smooth,” “authentic,” then I’d say yes there is some awkwardness in the way you wrote the first progression.
The first thing, especially when writing for strings, is to have your upper voices closer together and the bass voices spread wider and to write your chord intervals following the harmonic overtone series; that would be: root–root(8va)–5th–3rd. You don’t *have * to write it that way though, that’s just the standard. So for the first DMaj7 chord for example, the bass/cello in octaves with the root is good and the C# in violins I is good. I personally would raise the F# an octave and place it in the violins II. Then play a 5th double stop in the viola: D–A. So the chord would be voiced, D–D(8va)–D–A–F#–C#. Again, just ONE way you could do it.
Second, as you mentioned, the voice leading, which is what will make the progression sound more seamless and smooth is all going the same direction which is normally not what you want to do, because you get the parallel octaves/5ths and it makes the sound very sharp and jarring. Usually what you want is to move some of the voices in the opposite direction or maintain the same voice on the same note if it is used from chord to chord.
From an auditory standpoint, your outer voices are going to be the most noticeable, so you want to make sure those have the least, if any parallel movement. Using chord inversions is the main way to do this and that’s why you have the voice-leading “rules.” Also, you don’t always have to use every note in a chord to get that chord’s sound; mainly, you can leave out the 5th and you still get the chord’s sound.
Here’s ONE potential solution: