Quartet embraces classic, contemporary works

Rockford Register Star
By Nat Bauer
November 2, 2009

The 125th-anniversary concert season of the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center continued this past Friday evening at the Court Street United Methodist Church with a stellar performance by the Cypress String Quartet.

Violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel have become world recognized as a premier string quartet, known for their power, passion and precision in presenting classic chamber music yet welcoming contemporary commissioned works.

Kloetzel introduced the first work, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy's "String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13," also known as the "Ist es Wahr?" ("Is it True?")

With a subdued adagio opening introducing the three-note theme, the movement emerges into a dynamic allegro, enabling the players to display their technical skill, mastery in tonal color and absolute precision in articulation.

The second movement, adagio non lento, has fugal concepts, most likely an influence from Beethoven, whom Mendelssohn highly respected. The intermezzo that followed was light, lively and had texture reminiscent of his "Midsummer Night's Dream."

The final, presto, began with tremolo chords leading to an energetic middle section, then ending serenely with cello, violin and viola.

Ward introduced the next work, "Lento Assai," which was commissioned for the quartet by Kevin Puts and premiered in February at the Library of Congress in Washington. Borrowing some ideas from Beethoven, the work very slowly emerges with a pianissimo D-flat major chord, slowly builds to a haunting melody by first violin, expands into a more contemporary melody and harmony, then returns to conclude with the soft, subtle and almost seductive texture that began the work.

The final work of the evening was Beethoven's "String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135," which was written shortly before his death. Filner explained that it poses two thoughts in musical motif format: "Muss es seine?" ("Must it be?") and "Es muss seine!" ("It Must Be!")

To this day, 184 years later, the reason for and answer remains a mystery. The music surrounding them, however, is classic Beethoven and has gained upper status in classical repertoire.

The opening begins grave and poses the "Muss es seine?" motif, quickly followed by the playful and energetic allegretto. The scherzo has brilliance and a unique 50-measure robust repetitive rhythmic figure in the lower voices with first violin playing a melody like a country fiddler.

The third movement was very soft with a simple chorale like melody in four variations, the final movement culminating with a very definitive musical "It must be!"

After a standing ovation, the quartet presented an encore, the final movement from Dvorak's "Quartet in A minor."

Nat Bauer is director of music at Riverside Community Church in Machesney Park and reviews music for the Rockford Register Star.