The Cy­press Quar­tet bows out

San Francisco Chronicle - - DATE­BOOK - By Joshua Kos­man

The old show­biz mantra says you should al­ways leave ’em want­ing more, and that truth has rarely felt as apt as it did dur­ing the farewell con­cert Sun­day af­ter­noon, June 26, by the Cy­press String Quar­tet.

For 20 years, this en­er­getic en­sem­ble — now com­pris­ing vi­o­lin­ists Ce­cily Ward and Tom Stone, vi­o­list Ethan Fil­ner and cel­list Jen­nifer Kloet­zel — has of­fered au­di­ences an ar­ray of mu­si­cal trea­sures, in­clud­ing not only works of the stan­dard reper­toire but also the fruits of a long and ded­i­cated com­mis­sion­ing pro­gram. The group’s de­ci­sion to dis­band will leave a dis­tinc­tive gap in the artis­tic land­scape.

Sun­day’s pro­gram in the Diane B. Wilsey Cen­ter for Opera was can­nily cho­sen to high­light the par­tic­u­lar di­men­sions of the Cy­press’ le­gacy. It fea­tured a Beethoven quar­tet — Op. 95 in F Mi­nor, “Se­rioso” — as a nod to the group’s long­stand­ing en­gage­ment with that body of work, in­clud­ing a com­plete record­ing on the Avie la­bel and a re­cent project to play all 16 quar­tets in public free con­certs around San Fran­cisco.

There was a sam­pler of move­ments from four re­cent works and a small rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the more than two dozen pieces com­mis­sioned and pre­miered by the quar­tet. The stan­dard reper­toire was in­cluded in the form of De­bussy’s String Quar­tet. And the en­cores took a Czech turn, with short, won­der­fully ren­dered se­lec­tions by Dvorák, Josef Suk and Er­win Schul­hoff.

The group’s de­ci­sion to dis­band will leave a dis­tinc­tive gap in the artis­tic land­scape.

If the work of Beethoven and the con­tem­po­rary com­posers were the area with which the quar­tet has been es­pe­cially strongly iden­ti­fied, it was the De­bussy, oddly enough, that elicited the af­ter­noon’s most thrilling per­for­mance.

This was a read­ing of el­e­gance and ex­pres­sive clar­ity, marked by lush tex­tures and keenly pointed rhythms. The dis­tinc­tively am­bigu­ous strains of De­bussy’s writ­ing — by turns del­i­cate and emo­tion­ally sup­ple — found voice in the quar­tet’s per­for­mance. The full-bod­ied en­sem­ble play­ing in the slow move­ment was only one de­light among many.

For the con­tem­po­rary seg­ment, the quar­tet as­sem­bled sin­gle move­ments of four of their com­mis­sioned pieces, mak­ing a patch­work suite that could al­most pass as a sin­gle score. The move­ments didn’t quite mesh with one another, but on the other hand this was a rea­son­ably work­able ploy to get plenty of mu­sic into a sin­gle pro­gram.

And the in­di­vid­ual move­ments each served as en­tic­ing teasers for their orig­i­nal set­tings. “Clay Flute,” from Elena Ruehr’s Third String Quar­tet, turned a small hand­ful of notes into a be­guil­ing, de­cep­tively sim­ple cre­ation, while the fi­nale from Ben­jamin Lees’ Sixth String Quar­tet — ro­bust, rhyth­mi­cally var­ied and full of har­monic spice — made a splen­did con­clu­sion. In be­tween came a sweet, slightly cloy­ing ex­cerpt from Jen­nifer Hig­don’s “Im­pres­sions” (a re­sponse to the quar­tets of De­bussy and Ravel) and a tiny scherzo by French com­poser Philippe Her­sant that left one ea­ger to hear it in the con­text of his Third Quar­tet.

All of them were de­liv­ered with the fer­vor and com­mit­ment that have char­ac­ter­ized this en­sem­ble’s finest work over the years. It’s a group that will be sorely missed.

Cy­press String Quar­tet

The Cy­press String Quar­tet: vi­o­lin­ist Tom Stone (left), vi­o­list Ethan Fil­ner, cel­list Jen­nifer Kloet­zel and vi­o­lin­ist Ce­cily Ward. The en­sem­ble is dis­band­ing af­ter more than 20 years.

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