Young, Dynamic, Courageous and Masterful

Augsburger Allgemeine
by Karl Martin Grass – article from 7/23/07

A Kaisheim-Leitheim surprise: A string quartet, still almost unknown in Europe, got off to a brilliant start at the Leitheim Castle Concerts: The Cypress String Quartet from San Francisco. The von Tucher family and circle of friends made an outstanding choice with this ensemble. This still rather young string quartet, having already reaped good reviews in America, proved to be a top-class and powerful ensemble.

The program opened with Joseph Haydn's famous Emperor Quartet, the interpretation of which is not as simple as the empathetic melody themes would suggest. The first movement starts with a short theme, built on a punctuated rhythm that is then led through the instruments in a rather unstructured manner. The second movement builds on the melody of a song composed earlier by Haydn, "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" [God Save Franz the Emperor] - a melody also known from the German National Anthem.

Festive and subtle

The almost un-Viennese, festive delivery of the theme and the most impressively played variations, exploring the theme through the various instruments, at times only played as a duet or a trio, were remarkable. Here, particularly, Ethan Filner on viola stands out with subtle phrasing, and the cello of Jennifer Kloetzel impresses with strong, yet velvety tones. The scherzo comes along strong and solid, with fluidly played sequences, themes and motifs written as a sort of conversation.

The finale, composed in part of contrasting themes, encompasses many tempo difficulties. They were securely mastered by the ensemble, providing the cello with a gorgeously played passage.

This was followed by a rather drastic contrast with Five Pieces for String Quartet from 1923 by the German-Bohemian composer Erwin Schulhoff, who died in a concentration camp as result of the national-socialistic persecution. From the outset, the Viennese waltz, with its restrained, dance-like step sequence, documented a conscious reorientation of the music and the avoidance of harmonious melodies. The Serenata is reminiscent of Bartok and the Bohemian dance is reminiscent of Alban Berg, whereas the Tango Milonga and, particularly, the Tarantella, in a dismantled structure, offer an almost volcanic eruption of rhythm. The ensemble mastered these difficult pieces with sensitivity to its disassembled structure, but also with great technical proficiency and impressive concentration – the visitors were quite enthralled with this offering.

In the second part of the concert, the ensemble tackled Beethoven's last string quartet, Op. 135 in F major. This rather unwieldy yet thoughtfully composed quartet requires that the somewhat disparate musical themes be carefully worked out. Similar to Haydn, Beethoven opens the first movement with a short, punctuated, almost rhythmical theme, impressively and deliberately formulated by Filner's viola, and splendidly taken over by the first violin.

Especially in this composition, the transitions from instrument to instrument and careful accentuation of the themes were crucial to the quality of the performance. In the second movement, the viola and first violin compete for leading the melody; additionally the fast sections offer an almost breathless sprint through the tone sequences.

Played with courage

The third, rather slow movement, beginning with an expressive chord built-up instrument by instrument, is constructed most impressively. The fourth movement, in turn, requires a subtle empathy for the difficultly arranged structure of the laterally running themes, but the ensemble turned this into a temperamental, courageously played and multifaceted interpretation – generating great enthusiasm from the audience, which was rewarded with two encores.