Daily Gazette: String quartet impresses with its wide variety of selections

Dailygazette.com (Troy, NY)
March 20, 2010
by Geraldine Freedman

TROY -- The Cypress String Quartet presented a concert Friday night at Emma Willard's Kiggins Hall as part of the 61st season of the Friends of Chamber Music with a program that had pieces from four centuries. The evening was also in honor of WMHT, which was taping the concert for future rebroadcast.

Violins Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, viola Ethan Filner and cello Jennifer Kloetzel have been together 13 years, annually do up to 90 concerts and over the years have commissioned 25 pieces, many of which have made it into the mainstream repertoire. They're an energetic group and showed a nice grasp of touch and sound quality as they progressed from one century to the next.

They began with Haydn's Quartet in C Major, Op. 33, No. 3 ("The Bird"), written in 1781. That was a good year, Kloetzel told the large crowd, because it represented a time when Mozart and Haydn would gather to play string quartets together (Haydn on violin and Mozart on viola). They must have had a grand time with this quartet.

To some extent it was typical Haydn: light, sweetly lyrical and with a little drama in the third movement as it moved into a minor section for contrast. But Haydn was a clever guy with a sense of humor. His little squeezed grace notes in the first movement and the "birdy" trills' dialogue between the two violins in the second movement can only bring a smile.

The quartet kept things light and evenly balanced, didn't force their tones, avoided accents, struck a good blend, phrased with clarity and set reasonable tempos.

In Barber's only quartet, which he wrote at 26 in 1936, the quartet allowed themselves more drama and bigger tones with deeper bows. In the famous Adagio, for which we can thank Toscanini for having it arranged for orchestra, the quartet played with more intensity and overt passion than is usually heard.

Kevin Puts wrote Lento Assai in 2009, inspired by the slow movement of Beethoven's Quartet, No. 135. Misty and searching, it evolved into more anxious moments before ebbing into melancholia, then hope and peace. The quartet was committed and intense.

They saved the best for last. Ward said the quartet plays Beethoven's No. 135 every season, and it showed. The ensemble was tighter and leaner, had clean attention to details, precise rhythms and projected with a clean-edged tone. Written in 1826, a year before Beethoven died, it was sunny, playful and untroubled.

The encore was a movement from Dvorak's "American" quartet.