Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quintet in C,
Cypress Str Qrt; Gary Hoffman (vc)
AVIE 2307 (63:17)
The canard that European orchestras play with more soul while American ones play with better technique touches on the truth. The same distinction applies to chamber music, and veteran collectors still cast their gaze to Europe when they want to hear the most moving
performances of Schubert and Beethoven. My touchstone for the great C-Major Quintet, the summation of Schubert’s last period, has long been the rough-sounding mono account from the 1952 Prades Festival featuring Isaac Stern and Pablo Casals.
But mentioning this classic brings me up short, because the turbulence of the 1930s in Europe, followed by a cataclysmic war, brought a wave of eminent musicians to the United States. Casals injects an almost painful intensity of soul into the performance, inspiring a polyglot group that includes Alexander Schneider, Milton Katims, and Paul Tortelier. We reach the Pyrenees circuitously, via Lithuania and the Seine, saluting the Statue of Liberty on the way. At the same time, the clean precision associated with modern American training isn’t present. Here, in a new account by the California-based Cypress Quartet (joined by cellist Gary Hoffman), it is. This is a beautifully recorded reading where every voice blends smoothly, and there is never a deviation from sweetness of tone and flowing ensemble.
For me, however, the ideal performance requires sustained eloquence and hints of heartbreak. You don’t have to reach back 60 years to find this. Stern’s 1993 remake with Yo-Yo Ma has it, despite the violinist’s occasionally impaired intonation. I was very impressed by the Belcea Quartet, and best of all is the Russian group of virtuosos led by Oleg Kagan. This new one isn’t in the same league, which isn’t to impugn the lyrical grace of the music-making or the ensemble’s intent to express emotion. Nothing here is glib (perhaps the scherzo is a bit breezy), yet the playing needs to dig deeper in order to make a lasting impression.
As filler we get Schubert’s peculiar, jittery
, done in the same somewhat under-inflected manner. I prefer the neurotic Modernism of the Signum Quartet in this work, where the alternation between angst and lyricism is strongly contrasted. Of course, the Cypress players have a right to hear the piece differently, and one has to appreciate their nuance and elegance—the same goes for the rest of this enjoyable, easy-going album.
FANFARE: Huntley Dent
Works on This Recording
Quintet for Strings in C major, Op. 163/D 956 by Franz Schubert
Gary Hoffman (Cello)
Cypress String Quartet
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Skywalker Sound Scoring Stage
Length: 53 Minutes 36 Secs.
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