Lucid Culture: Late Beethoven Done His Way by the Cypress String Quartet
Source: Lucid Culture
April 24, 2012
There’s a school of thought that considers the string quartet repertoire to be the world’s most exciting music – an opinion advanced mostly by people who play those works. The Cypress String Quartet’s new triple-disc set of late Beethoven string quartets (Op. 127, 130,131, 132, 133 and 135) is an album for people who share that point of view. It’s less radical an interpretation than it might seem: in fact, it’s about as retro as possible, simply a dedication to following Beethoven’s dynamics to the letter. It may be the most Beethovenesque of all the recordings out there: the old grump, if he could have heard this, no doubt would have approved.
Partial, and very noteworthy, credit goes to the Quartet’s Cecily Ward, who produced the album: all the close-miking and attention to minute detail pays off with a brightly bristling, intense intimacy enhanced even further via headphones. While you will find yourself having to adjust the volume periodically, that’s the way Beethoven undoubtedly would have intended it. But ultimately it’s the playing even more than the production here that steals the show, a powerful, dynamically charged performance that refuses to back away from storminess while also embracing the quietest passages with a gentle rapturousness that adds just as much power and insight. You could spend the better part of a week downloading every recording of these works available on the web, but ultimately this collection might be the more cost-effective choice.
Suffice it to say that Beethoven’s late quartets are arguably the high point of a career spent pushing the envelope, a feat even more noteworthy considering that he was in ill health and could increasingly hear only less and less of what he was writing. Violinists Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel celebrate the unexpected throughout these works: the attention to detail is astounding. Unexpected passages leap out at you and are every bit as interesting as the main themes, sometimes more so. For example, in Op. 127, the second movement becomes much more of a nocturne than a courtly waltz; and then the ensemble gives it a suspenseful bounce. Suspense is the key to so much here: the sudden swells and pervasive unease in the following movement; the briskly wintry foreshadowing of the first movement of Op. 132; the emphatic oomph that springs out of its waltzing third movement; Kloetzel’s cello as omnipresent reality check beneath the hypnotic dreaminess of the fourth movement of Op. 131; the spacious pacing of brooding swells within the comfortable crepulscule atmospherics of Op. 135′s second movement; and the absolutely macabre, insistent tritones of that work’s final movement, the Quartet allowing the frantic horror to linger even as the passage recedes into Haydnesque pleasantry. It would take a small book to list all the highlights. For a more in-depth look at disc two, here’s a review of that one (with Op. 130 and both its “final” ending and the famous Grosse Fugue that Stravinsky reputedly picked as his alltime favorite composition), previously issued as a stand-alone disc toward the end of 2010.
Conceivably, at low volume, this might make suitable background music, although at too low a volume, considering the dynamics, the music fades in and out. But this wasn’t created as background music: this recording is for anyone who would prefer to revel in the power and vast emotional scope of these immortal works.
Midwest Record: Beethoven-The Late String Quartets (Review)
Source: Midwest Record
March 17, 2012
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor & Publisher
CYPRESS STRING QUARTET/Beethoven-The Late String Quartets:
Like John Daly used to say when he hosted "What's My Line?", ‘panel, I'm jut going to throw all the cards over'. What is there to say when a bunch of committed pros deliver the goods on some serious works that need to be treated right and respected yet played with passion that's keeps the listener riveted? This three cd box of some complicated works written by a deaf guy is not for the feint of heart to even go near. This crew has hearts of steel.
A grand work and a grand collection on a grand work, it's going to be a long time before this set is displaced as the last word on these pieces. You don't even have to be a classical fan to be caught in this web, but be warned it's not a light crossover effort. All you have to do is meet it half way and you will be amply rewarded. This recording is nothing less than amazing.
Late Beethoven from the Cypress String Quartet
March 14, 2012
by Stephen Smoliar
The latest recording from the Cypress String Quartet (violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner, and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel) takes on an ambitious project. It is a three-CD box set of the six string quartet compositions from the “Late Period” of Ludwig van Beethoven, written between 1822 and 1826. All of the recordings were produced by Ward for the ensemble’s own label (Cypress Performing Arts Association); and the box includes a booklet with an essay by Joseph Kerman (author of The Beethoven Quartets), which provides an excellent guide to some of Beethoven’s most daringly adventurous work.
There are many ways in which Beethoven pushed the envelope with these compositions. My own tastes have always been drawn to his ability to master longer and longer durations for single movements. The most impressive example comes in the Opus 132 quartet in A minor Molto Adagio to which Beethoven gave the title “Solemn Song of Thanks of a Convalescent to the Godhood, in the Lydian mode.” This is music very much on the same scale as the Adagio sostenuto movement of Beethoven’s Opus 106 sonata in B-flat major (“Hammerklavier”), which, when performed properly, makes one think that Beethoven was trying the slow the ticking of the clock, if not force time to stand still. The later meditation on “the Godhood” similarly succeeds in transcending the mortal coil of time itself, this time through the tritone-laden ambiguities of the Lydian mode.
The Cypress interpretation taps into these transcendent qualities, as the Quartet does in the other extended movements in this collection. Of those instances the most conventional would probably be the theme-and-variations movement of Opus 131 in C-sharp minor. Of course there was never anything conventional about Beethoven’s approach to variation; and Cypress takes a fearless approach to the over-the-top rhetoric that accompanies the more ambitious of these variations. Then, of course, there is the Opus 133 “Große Fuge” in G minor, which pushes the logic of imitative form to its own extremes.
While I have no trouble with the Cypress execution of Opus 133, however, I would question their decision to restore it as the final movement of the Opus 130 quartet in B-flat major. This reflects Beethoven’s original intention; but he then replaced the fugue with a shorter (by about two-thirds) movement in B-flat major. I am inclined to side with Beethoven, just because so much time has been consumed by the five movements that precede the concluding one. Granted, anyone listening to Opus 130 today is probably quite comfortable with the durational scale of Gustav Mahler and is less likely to feel that the whole thing goes on for too long; but there is no reason to treat Opus 130 as some kind of marathon. Opus 133 throws so much at the serious listener (and Cypress handles it so well), that one may almost say that it deserves to be experienced on its own.
Of course we now live in an age of digital music. Listeners can now download all seven tracks on the second disc in this box. They can then set up playlists for both versions of the Opus 130 quartet!
In this context my only personal misgiving amounts to an almost insignificant quibble. What matters is the overall satisfaction of the entire collection. That satisfaction level is high, indeed. Those who know other recordings of this music will still have much to get from listening to the Cypress approach. For those who do not, this is an excellent way to get to know these compositions that play such a major role in music history.