Stereophile: The Fifth Element #78 [excerpt]

Source: Stereophile, April 2013
by John Marks

Beethoven's Late String Quartets: New Recordings of Special Merit

...In a video chat with Cypress's first violinist, Cecily Ward, I asked how they came to record with such exotic microphones, and at Skywalker, no less. Her answer is sure to warm the cockles of audiophiles' hearts: "From the Quartet's point of view, we're all about what it sounds like. We have always gravitated toward the kind of clean sound we are now known for in our recordings."

Indeed, the Cypress was so taken with the sound of the Sanken CO-100Ks that they bought their own matched pair. Further, while they've experimented with additional, more distantly placed mike pairs, on the theory that they might help capture more of the room sound, in the end, all of the recordings in this set were made in two-mike stereo. My first listening impression was not only of arresting clarity of sound, but also of a certain crispness, both tonal and in the sense that the starts and stops of bowings seemed unusually well defined. (I know—I'm not going to hear well-defined bowing unless the players can play that way.) On further listening, it also seemed to me that while there was no shortage of ambient information, the hall sound seemed to leave, for lack of a better phrase, breathing room around the players and the notes. In terms of sound alone, these are magnificent recordings, but I'm fully aware that some will be inclined to reject out of hand a string-quartet recording made with omnidirectional microphones.

As for the interpretations go, I think this young quartet is among the most impressive I have heard in modern sound, and need not take a back seat to any of the historical ensembles. The Cypress recordings combine the utmost scrupulousness and seriousness with a sense of discovery. These readings are intensely literal, but don't lose sight of the big story. There is no polish merely for the sake of turning in a polished performance, and no beautiful playing merely for the sake of making pretty sounds. Add to that an acceptance of the ambiguity and even contradictions inherent in these works, and you have a winner. Most highly recommended.


John Marks, Stereophile April 2013.