The Big City: Lions In Winter

The Big City

December 12, 2010
by George Grella

...Of course, the great example of late style in the arts is Beethoven... To explore that mystery, listen to the Tokyo Quartet's set of the late quartets, and also to the first two volumes of the Cypress String Quartet's recordings of the late quartets. Both groups of recordings are at the highest level, and they are quite different from each other.

The Tokyo is a veteran group, their sound, especially in the brilliant Harmonia Mundi SACD sound, is bright, polished but not smoothed over. Their tempos and playing style is lighter, they have a focus on ensemble unanimity of purpose, giving the feeling that they have clearly determined the thing they will express and then doing so with great style. Their set is full of energy, bravura in every way. The Cypress is a younger group, their sound is rougher and darker (both types of sound are great in this music). Their playing is more deliberate, like they are thinking out loud, and at times they seem to be deliberately giving an independent voice to each of their members, exploring the possibilities of the music and confident it will bear them safely to a conclusion – this strikes me as a naturally brilliant approach to these pieces, with their willfulness and depth. Where the Tokyo excites with beauty, the Cypress excites with a thrilling kind of gravitas, a willingness to contemplate what is happening in front of them while they play the music. Their CDs have superb sound, and I'm eagerly awaiting the final installment. Both sets would be a valuable part of any Beethoven collection, and with their quality and differences make great 'bookends'.