Times Herald-Record: Cypress String Quartet gives a rousing salute to spring

Times Herald-Record
March 23, 2010
By James F. Cotter

NEWBURGH - The Cypress String Quartet helped welcome the apriq season with a concert Sundayy afternoon at St. George's Episcopal Church. The Newburgh Chamber Music series, co-founded by Carole Cowan, its president, is in its 10th year and again sponsored the internationally known group that is made up of violinists CecilyWard and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel. They played with passion, expertise and sensitivity, obviously at home with the music and one another in their ensemble interpretations of string quartets by Haydn, Barber and Schubert.

Players introduced each piece with helpful background comments. The program opened with Haydn's String Quartet in C major, Op. 33, No. 3. It has been dubbed "The Bird" because of its chirping notes in the first allegro movement with its interlaced trills and grace notes of the main theme. Double whole notes build to a rapid close and recapitulating coda. The scherzo, surprisingly, begins quietly until the lower notes yield a high-register trio for violins with twittering birdcalls. The adagio is rich and pastoral, and the final rondo proceeds with breathless speed to a rousing conclusion. The group showed their appreciation of the piece in their close and lively voicing of the score.

Barber's String Quartet in B minor, his only string quartet, follows the traditional fast-slow-fast structure, but is famous for its middle adagio movement. As arranged for orchestra for Toscanini, the Adagio for Strings has been featured in films and at funerals for it's profoundly moving simplicity and beauty. Heard in its original context, after an allegro of interludes of discord and drama, the adagio sets off polyphonic sequence of ascending phrases that build to a single fortissimo climax. After a moment of silence, the final pianissimo chords return to the opening to complete the circle. A swift aIlegro that picks up the opening bars frames the work with a sense of still another harmonic cycle. The players were attentive to the flowing unison passages and shared contrasts in their exchanges.

After intermission, the group performed Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, called ''Death and the Maiden" since it employs the melody of the composer's song in its andante movement. It is dark and foreboding from the first allegro attack in five-note unison, violent and relentless as if a death-defying struggle is taking place. Moments of respite occur, but the antiphonal exchanges of high and low, loud and soft phrases end in gloom. The andante continues the morose theme with variations on the lied in which death tells the frightened maiden "I am your friend." The scherzo and trio develop a dance rhythm in repeated triplets that prepare for the presto finale, which employs a tarantella theme, a dance or death that is frenzied and tragic. The players sustained a texture and tonality that was truly attentive to the emotional and technical complexity of this challenging masterpiece, written in the last years of Schubert's short life.

Cypress String Quartet has energy and force to spare with their exemplary timing, special flair and first rank virtuosity. We can only hope they will return soon.