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CHAMBER REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, February 28, 2016
Cypress String Quartet Cecily Ward and Tom Stone,violin; Ethan Filner, viola; Jennifer Kloetzel, cello

Cypress String Quartet in Schroeder Feb. 28

VALEDICTORY CYPRESS QUARTET CONCERT IN SCHROEDER

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 28, 2016

Parting can be such sweet sorrow, but better than either was the Cypress String Quartet’s farewell North Bay concert Feb. 28 in Schroeder. The group will disband in June in their San Francisco hometown.

Violinist Tom Stone’s remarks to the audience of 175 about Haydn set the stage for sure-footed performance of the C Major Quartet, Op. 76, No. 3. Schroeder’s acoustics seemed to favor cellist Jennifer Kloetzel’s sound, even the drone effects, but throughout the opening Allegro and in the long duo for two violins in the Adagio every instrument carried well and blended.

In the Variations each instrument has a solo in turn, then bursts forth the composer’s resplendent Austrian/German national hymn. The Minuetto was played with a judicious tempo, with many delicate details and spicatto bowings. Violinists Cecily Ward and Mr. Stone traded fast descending scales in the finale and the Cypress fashioned a reading of the “Emperor” Quartet of rich string color and rhythmic precision. It was a splendid blend of Haydn’s elegance and simple earthiness.

Glazunov wrote five Novelettes for string quartet, and the three played to close the first half were Allegretto ala spagnuola, Interludium and Orientale. There were well played but passed without much notice, even juxtaposing the pizzicato dances of the first and the sorrowful and pensive second. Violist Ethan Filner, seated at stage right, played solos in themes that were reminiscent of Vaughan Williams music. The whirling short motives of the Orientale were the most effective, rustic to the last bowed note in a unison attack. It was an odd program choice, but clearly relished by the Cypress.

In their 20 years together the Cypress has played through the Beethoven cycle many times, and the choice of the B-Flat Quartet (Op. 130) was an opportunity to say goodbye to the North Bay with a work of monumental power and interest. The 1826 piece is in six movements, with an optional finale, and Ms. Kloetzel described to the audience how the Quartet approaches Beethoven, and why the Grosse Fuge last movement was chosen for performance over the alternative Allegro.

Both the opening Adagio and the finale appear to be struggles between two instincts of an individual – the imploring instinct and the instinct of violence. They played the Adagio in a more lyrical manner than anticipated, with many small phrases starting to go astray but never actually doing it. The skittish B Minor Scherzo was quickly over, and the following Andante was played fancifully and almost intimately.
I thought both the Danza Tedesca and the E-Flat Major cavatina movements were performed exquisitely, the tranquil and restrained emotion phrases beautifully shaped. Capturing here the essence of Beethoven’s spiritual energy was for me the highlight of the afternoon, and the Cypress’ deft changes in tempo were both natural and critical to this luminescent music.

The great Fugue invites comparison with the Op. 106 Piano Sonata Fugue, as both have a slow but never timid middle section between the often-strident outer parts. But the string fugue is harder to follow, even with ample thematic projection from Ms. Ward and Mr. Filner cutting through the aural din, pedal point in the cello and minimal vibrato all around. This movement lasted 14 minutes, not too long but since 1826 still demanding a listener’s attentive ear and exploring mind.

Surprisingly, the Cypress responded to an ovation with one encore, which I think was Suk’s Venetian Gondola Song. And a sweet poem without words it was, a valedictory gift capping a masterful concert.

Sonia Morse Tubridy contributed to this review.