Times-Union: The Cypress String Quartet @ Friends of Chamber Music

Times Union (Troy, NY)
March 22, 2010
By Priscilla McLean, Special to the Times Union

On a beautiful early spring evening the Friends of Chamber Music Inc. presented the Cypress String Quartet, a remarkable young ensemble from San Francisco who played a concert of works spanning four centuries. Although a strong, robust sound from the violins was often missing, the ensemble itself was elegant in its cohesiveness and clarity, even playing exquisitely at times.

The strongest piece on the program was the Beethoven "Quartet in F Major, Op. 135," probably one of the greatest quartets ever written, and an obvious favorite with this group, who has performed it every year of the ensemble’s thirteen year touring career. It was a joy to hear this work played like an old friend, with all the nuances and even semi-savage performance when called for in Movement Four along with very delicate sections as in Movement Two.

Movement Three, "Lento assai," poignant but also enigmatic, became the impetus for the newest work on the program, with the same name, "Lento Assai" by the composer Kevin Puts, premiered in 2009. Asked by the Quartet, one of the commissioners of the piece, to use musical ideas from one of the famous composers it performs, Puts chose Beethoven, and unfortunately a very difficult movement from which to create a new piece.

This resulted in a simplistic work which wanders in a wilderness of banal, predictable chord progressions while searching for an idea. The score quotation from Beethoven's fourth movement, "Muss es sein?" (Must it be?) seems ironically to find its answer in this piece, sandwiched between Samuel Barber's wonderful "Quartet Op. 11_ with its famous second movement "Adagio (for strings)" and the Opus 135 of Beethoven.

The Cypress String Quartet has an uncanny ability to adapt to different musical styles. The first piece on the program, Quartet in C Major, Op. 33 No. 3 by Franz Joseph Haydn was extremely delicate, nuanced, and by the last movement, breathlessly fast but accurate and clear. The Samuel Barber quartet was played with so much force and expression that it seemed the group had brought in different instruments, or the hall had changed. This careful style awareness continued throughout the concert, which was a delight to experience.

The audience, plied with an endless stream of chocolates by the staff, was joyfully appreciative of the whole evening, including the ten-minute "American Quartet" encore by Anton Dvorak, topping off a fine evening prior to the first day of spring.

Priscilla McLean is a freelance writer and composer/performer.