Phil’s Classical Reviews: Dvorak Cypresses, String Quartet No.13

Source: Phil’s Classical Reviews, Audio Video Club of Atlanta
April, 2013

Dvořák: “Cypresses,” String Quartet No. 13
Cypress String Quartet
Avie Records

As you might have guessed from the number of times I’ve covered this fine string quartet in Phil’s Classical Reviews, I’m rather fond of them. They are, by name, Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violins; Ethan Filner, viola; and Jennifer Kloetzel, cello. Graduates of famous conservatories in England and America, the Cypress String Quartet are home-based in San Francisco. They are such an easy foursome to get to know and love that my own (admittedly idiosyncratic) pet name for them is “the Anglo-American Grille,” after the friendly eating place that Charles Laughton, as the title character, opened up in a wild west town in the classic Hollywood comedy of 1938, Ruggles of Red Gap.

That immediate appeal, as so often in the arts, is the result of deliberate, hard work. To quote from their own website, “during its initial rehearsals the group created a signature sound through intense readings of J.S. Bach’s Chorales. Built up from the bottom register of the quartet and layered like a pyramid, the resulting sound is clear and transparent, allowing the texture of the music to be discerned immediately” (

We hear that clarity early in the opening movement of String Quartet No. 13 in G major, Op. 106, in the way the cello leads the other strings into the recap of the second theme. In the slow movement, Adagio ma non troppo, the perfect phrasing and intonation of the players brings out the inner voices in Dvořák’s writing with the greatest clarity and expressive beauty. Features such as the long drawn sigh in all the strings at its very opening have led some observers to see this movement as a backward look by Dvořák, from the security of his home in Bohemia, to the African-American spirituals that he heard in the New World. In the scherzo, Molto vivace, the Cypresses step out smartly in a Skočná, a Czech dance in quick 2/4 time that conveys a feeling of joyous exuberance. The finale is in the form of a Dumka, in a marking that the Ceruti quartet take to heart. A work of typical slow-fast pattern where the brief opening section, a melancholy Andante sostenuto, is followed by a pulsequickening Allegro con fuoco in fast 2/4 time which the present performers invest with a great deal of spirit.

Earlier in the program, we are treated to the utterly charming Cypresses, Dvořák’s setting of his cycle of love songs by that title. Since the Cypress Quartet are the namesake of this work, they put a little extra into their exploration of the various moods of longing, nostalgia, and sadness for unrequited love which inform these beautiful miniatures that had personal significance for their composer.