String quartet speaks eloquent musical language

The Union
November 28, 2007
By Charles Atthill

Attending the performance of a string quartet is like witnessing a stimulating conversation between friends, sensitive to each other and to the give and take of the argument. One speaks; the others comment, interrupt, change the subject. Sometimes they all speak at once. The secret is for the players not to obscure the message, however much they are enjoying themselves.

The San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet - on a return visit (Nov. 18) to the Twin Cities Concert Association with a program of Mozart, Bartok and Dvorak - had a lot to say and said it with eloquence. But this wasn't a rerun. Since its impressive 2005 performance, the quartet seems to have matured technically, musically and as an ensemble.

The demanding program showed off the group's formidable skill, sensitivity and insight into Mozart's sunny optimism, Bartok's brooding pessimism, and Dvorak's elation.

Understanding the background of the music - discussed in the pre-concert forum (a highlight of TCCA concerts) and in comments from the stage - greatly enhanced the experience.

Mozart, in debt and in failing health, desperately hoped for sponsorship from the King of Prussia, who was an excellent cellist. A prominent cello part might help. Mozart's hopes were dashed, but if he was desperate, we do not hear it in a work of light and energy, played with flamboyance and finesse and with a regal contribution from cellist Jennifer Kloetzel.

Bartok wrote his last quartet in 1939 after the outbreak of World War II and shortly before fleeing to America, deeply depressed about the prospects for Europe. The work, a farewell to Hungary, is filled with sometimes dissonant turmoil mingled with foreboding. The performance was urgent and deeply felt, especially the poignantly despairing last movement.

Dvorak's quartet by contrast is his thanks for his homecoming from America to his beloved Bohemia. The work is exuberant, full of joy, and played with such power and excitement that the audience was on its feet before the final chord had died away.

Dvorak wrote at the end of his score, "Thanks be to God." From us, thanks to the Cypress for its superb musicality in an outstanding concert. It seemed that the quartet had come home to us.