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Dvorak: Cypresses for String Quartet; String Quartet No. 13 / Cypress String Quartet

Dvorak / Cypress String Quartet
Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2275   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cypress String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVORÁK String Quartet No.13 in G, Op. 106. Cypresses, B152 Cypress Str Qrt AVIE AV2275 (68: 47)

The Cypress String Quartet (Cecily Ward, Tom Stone, Ethan Filner, Jennifer Kloetzel) took its name from Dvorák’s work many years ago; I don’t know if this is its first recording of the piece. The four players came together in 1996, studied with the Amadeus Quartet, and “count the Cleveland and Read more Juilliard Quartets as among their greatest influences.” The Cypress’s recordings range from Beethoven early and late to contemporary music, some of which it commissioned.

Cypresses —the title is not Dvorák’s—were originally 18 love songs, written in 1865. The composer used and adapted the music many times, and in 1887 arranged 12 of the songs for string quartet. Although they have little internal or connecting structure, their fervent lyricism has kept them on the radar. Once seldom recorded (usually a few at a time), they have seen a rash of new issues lately, reported in many recent Fanfare s. I have heard perhaps a half a dozen recordings over the years and had settled on Supraphon’s Panocha Quartet for its general excellence, but I never felt strongly about the music, 10 generally slow movements followed by two Allegro s—the first charming, the second potent and weighty. The Cypress Quartet has changed my mind; I’m not saying it outplays the Emerson or the several other renowned ensembles that have recorded this music, but it does locate its essence, always finding the juice but never falling into the vat of sentimentality that threatens. The phrasing is relaxed, the playing easy; colors are appropriately bright or gently shaded, and we hear every instrumental line and each accompanying note. Ward’s 1761 Stradivarius stands out, but it needs care to keep such an instrument from taking over a performance, and her playing is always just right: sweet, clean, and solid. Rehearing the Panocha shows that—for all its experience with Dvorák quartets—it doesn’t make the most of Cypresses : Its tight ensemble does the work no favors. Avie’s lovely recorded sound, from Skywalker Sound Studios in Marin County, California, helps, too. And I haven’t given Ward enough credit; she also produced these recordings.

This ensemble’s winning characteristics carry over to the op. 106 Quartet, but here they are less salutary. The serious, often dense music doesn’t take as well to four always heard solo lines, greater pressure on the strings cuts into the Cypress’s sweetness, and slightly imperfect intonation is more troublesome in Dvorák’s heavy scoring than it was in the lighter love songs. The solid, well-blended ensemble of the Panocha and other distinguished Czech quartets is needed here. The Cypress fully realizes the lyricism of this late work, but that can be found with the stronger ensembles as well; my current favorite is the revived Talich Quartet on Calliope, with the old master Jan Talich, Sr. playing viola to Jan, Jr.’s first violin. Still, the Cypress is not to be dismissed: It works up a fine frenzy in the Allegro con fuoco section of the finale, which then gets a little out of control at its reappearance in the coda.

A fine disc, recommended primarily for Cypresses.

FANFARE: James H. North
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 13 in G major, Op. 106/B 192 by Antonín Dvorák
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cypress String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1895; Bohemia 
Cypresses for String Quartet, B 152 by Antonín Dvorák
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cypress String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887; Bohemia 

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