A Triumphant Performance by Cypress String Quartet

Independent Coast Observer
April 20, 2007
Iris Lorenz-Fife
Special to the ICO

The Cypress String Quartet paid its fourth visit to the Gualalu Arts for last Sunday's chamber concert. It has been a great pleasure to watch their increasing maturity through these years and I trust they will continue to perform regularly on the Coast.

Since 2001 the Cypress String Quartet has brought us a rich variety of music, showing themselves to be masters of the classical forms of Mozart, the the impressionism of Ravel, and the modernity of Benjamin Lees.

This year we were treated to a first-half smorgasbord of appetizers from Ernest Bloch and Dmitri Shostakovich, and an extremely satisfying main course from Antonín Dvořák. (The food analogy is apt - the Quartet seems to argue most about where to stop for dinner, and came close to naming their group for a pungent cheese.) To spice the music we also heard anecdotes about each of the composers.

Bloch's earliest works for the quartet were a series of vignettes under the titles Paysagee (Landscapes, 1923-1924) and Haute Savoie (In the Mountains, 1924). Cypress performed them as a single suite of five movements, an arrangement that emphasized the contrasts and developed an appetite for more tasty morsels. Each piece is a short tone poem, setting a mood and describing an anecdote rather than telling a story, capturing the listener's imagination.

From Landscape, North sounded like the wind whispering as it flowed unstopped over wide-open expanses of ice and snow. Based on Nanook of the North, the popular 1922 silent filled about the life of an Inuit hunting family from Hudson Bay, it captures the dryness and vastness of the Arctic. The Cypress victims made the sharp edge of intense cold cut like a steel blade.

With Landscape's Alps we walk in the shelter of trees, cross a crystalline stream, enjoying the clear mountain air. For this the Quartet's string sounded a little warmer, but maintained the clarity of high space.

With Landscape's Tonga I felt that Bloch's music is too severe to speak of tropical warmth and exuberant verdancy, but the work brought a sense of lighthearted people whose daily work is easily completed so that the important socializing can begin. But I did wonder if Block approved - perhaps a hint more dryness in the intonation than the piece warranted?

Dusk, In the Mountains, is that time of day when birds come home to roost and bats head out to forage; Rustic Dancer was set in a village square on a festive afternoon. The mood of the dance varied from Sprightly polka to stately processional as the afternoon waned.

Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 11 (195) is a seven-movement farewell to Vasily Slarinsky, the boy Shostakovich played with and the man he worked with to make music. It is a piece that reveals its emotional depths and its glasslike clarity, without indulging in passionate outbursts.

First violinist Cecily ward opened the Introduction with a revealing elegy, the sadness and loss were emphasized with violinist Tom Stone and violist Ethan Filner playing solos in counterpoint, and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel added to the anger of the short Scherzo with her controlled intensity.

Throught the Recitative to the Humoresque the musicians explored the emotions of mourning from deep sorrow to remember moments of joy. Before the Elegy opened with Filner and Kloetzel in softer and more thoughtful exploration. The Finale brought a gentle coming-to-terms with loss, brought an acceptance.

The Quartet's playing of a lesser-known Dvořák Quartet - the G Major, Opus 106 from 1895 - simply proved that lesser works under the experienced fingers of such dedicated musicians can reveal the world.

Through a passionate Allegro moderato, a beautifully lyrical Adagio ma non trope, a spirited Molto vivace to a Finale: Andante sontenuto: Allegro con fuoco these four musicians played as one instrument, lifting the spirit and making the world disappear. What else is music for?