Examiner.com: Cypress Returns to Old St. Mary’s

Source: examiner.com
July 24, 2012
by Stephen Smoliar

Today’s Noontime Concerts™ (“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break”) recital featured the return of regular performers, the Cypress String Quartet (violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner, and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel). The program consisted entirely of music by Antonín Dvořák and provided an opportunity for the quartet to perform the music from which they took their name. That composition is the string quartet entitled Cypresses, which consists of twelve of the pieces from a cycle of the same name of eighteen songs for voice and piano based on poems by Gustav Pfleger Moravský. Each of the pieces in the quartet cycle carries the same title as the poem on which the original version was based.

Today’s concert began with four of these pieces, the first (“I known that on my Love to Thee”) and the last three (“There stands an ancient Crag,” “Nature lies peaceful in Slumber and Dreaming,” and “You ask why my Songs”). I came to know some of this music in a somewhat curious way. Back in my days as a balletomane, I had a great love of Anthony Tudor’s extended ballet The Leaves are Fading, based on an extensive selection of Dvořák’s chamber music, all arranged (to my disappointment) for string orchestra. (Many of us thought this was Tudor getting even with Jerome Robbins for his “Chopin marathon,” Dances at a Gathering.) Movements from Cypresses figured heavily in Tudor’s selection; so I could not help listening to “Nature lies peaceful” without a strong sense of nostalgia.

Taken purely on musical terms, each of these short pieces definitely makes for interesting chamber music. All of the rhetoric of song is there; so, instead of having “songs without words,” these pieces amount to “songs without voice.” The Cypress members did an excellent job of capturing those vocal qualities of their instrumental lines; and, of course, the setting of a string quartet is as intimate as that of art song. One might better appreciate the expressiveness of each movement if one knew the entire text behind the music, but I for one did not feel any shortage of expressiveness in today’s performance.

The Cypresses selections were followed by a performance of the Opus 106 quartet in G major. This was the next quartet that Dvořák composed (in 1895) after his best-known quartet, Opus 96 (“American”) in F major, composed in 1893. Cypress recorded Opus 96 last year for their release The American Album, and one can only hope that they plan to prepare a companion release for Opus 106. The two compositions could not be more different in thematic vocabulary, and even their overall architectures can be distinguished. Nevertheless, both quartets are unquestionably Dvořák, with highly expressive melodic lines emerging from each of the four voices against a background of rich harmonic progressions. Cypress gave Opus 106 a delightfully loving account, making it a welcome addition to their repertoire and a pleasant way to take a lunch break on a warm summer’s day.

Source: examiner.com