Strings Magazine: Cypress String Quartet Pays Homage to America’s Rich Musical Traditions

Strings Magazine
March 2012
By Heather K. Scott

Cypress String Quartet captures the majestic power of chamber music inspired by the nation’s diversity in sound

American music is one of those oddities that just defies categorization. There’s a diverse platter of folk music, various African-American music, and, of course, Native American music. It is a rich history of melody and dissonance: mountain-inspired tunes from the Appalachian and Rockies, folk from the prairie, African-American beauty from the South, miners’ camp ballads from the central north. And on and on.

But, the irony, as Dvorak—just one composer on The American Album, recently released by the Cypress String Quartet—so aptly noticed, is that back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, no classical composer was reveling in this rich history of sound. Not one single classical composer was celebrating the American propensity to break out into song, even in the most harrowing times (which so often was the impetus to create amazing music for those composing during this time).

This CD opens with Dvorak’s lovely String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96, “American.” I’ll be the first to admit, I have a soft spot for this piece, living not far from where it was penned (Spillville, Iowa, a place where Dvorak himself stated that he’d never felt more at home). This recording by the Cypress String Quartet—Cecily Ward, violin; Tom Stone, violin; Ethan Filner, viola; and Jennifer Kloetzel, cello—encapsulates the beauty and austerity of the high prairie. One can feel the late-summer breeze, sense the huge presence of the bison lolling nearby, the fear and excitement of a potential Native American encounter.

Griffes mimics this same gorgeous melody in his two sketches based on Native American themes. But the true magic comes in the CD’s eighth track, the Molto adagio of Samuel Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op. 1. Within the outlines of this quartet, you can hear the rough, rustic edges of what will become Barber’s fantastic Adagio for Strings, one of his most famed works. The push and pull of this piece in the raw and elegant tones of a quartet are at once arresting and heart wrenching.

The members of the Cypress have done their homework. These pieces are honest and pure, and performed with a keen ear toward their forefathers.

The American Album is a rare treat, beautiful music executed beautifully.