A/V Club of Atlanta: Late String Quartets, Vol.2

Audio Video Club of Atlanta
July, 2010
Phil's Classical Reviews

Cypress String Quartet

The San Francisco-based Cypress String quartet – Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violins; Ethan Filner, viola; and Jennifer Kloetzel, cello – score impressively in Volume 2 of their Late Beethoven Quartet Series (Vol. 3 will be out in 2011). They show, if that’s possible, even more élan than they did in last year's first release in the cycle. That's easy to do when the subject is Quartet No. 13 in B-flat, Op. 130 and the Große Fugue, Op. 133, works that reveal Beethoven's most profoundly human qualities, which include a remarkable sense of humor as well as drama and pathos.

Beethoven planned his B-flat Quartet (1825) as a work in six movements as follows: 1.Adagio, 2.Presto, 3.Poco scherzoso, 4.Alla Danza tedesca, 5.Cavatina, and 6.Finale: Große Fugue (Great Fugue). It would all require about 50 minutes to play. As he had done earlier with the Andante favori that was to have been the centerpiece of his "Waldstein" Sonata, Beethoven removed the 14-minute Great Fugue and published it separately the following year, substituting a shorter alternate finale, marked Allegro, in its place. The effect, a masterstroke, was to remove the major emphasis in the work from the Great despair in these wonderfully varied pieces in which gentle, highly poetic "feminine" qualities are contrasted to the wilder, bolder, more dramatic and even anguished, expression for which there was no adequate term in Schubert's time, but that we might now call "macho." These pieces will simply not play themselves. They must be characterized, and at the same time performed with a rhythmic flow and an utter naturalness that gives the listener the pleasant deception of an inspired improvisation (which is what "impromptu" means, after all). Vassily Primakov can do all that and keep our interest for 76 minutes. Could we ask for more?

Well, actually we could. And we get it in the form of perfectly focused sonics from the Bridge team, consisting of producer David Starobin and engineer Viggo Mangor, with editing by Charlie Post and mastering by Adam Abeshouse. Add piano technician Henrik Clement, and you have a first-rate production all around.