Archive for Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Series opener may be tough act to follow

Renowned string quartet kicks off Swarthout Chamber Music Series

October 12, 2004


The esteemed reputation of the Cypress String Quartet may have accounted for the larger-than-usual audience for Sunday afternoon's opening event of the Swarthout Chamber Music Series, and concertgoers were not disappointed.

The quartet played with a composed intensity that held the audience's close attention throughout the two-hour performance. Composer Dan Coleman, who was described by the quartet as "one of the great young composers," in turn called the group "four virtuoso musicians." Their precision, their brilliant modulation of dynamics and tempo, their thoughtful selection of works and their exceptional communication with one another provided one of the finer afternoons in this series in recent years.

Reviewed Oct. 10 at the Lied CenterMembers: Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violin; Ethan Filner, viola; and Jennifer Kloetzel, celloProgram:
  • "String Quartet in G major, Op. 33, No. 5," by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
  • "String Quartet No. 2," by Dan Coleman (1972-), co-commissioned by the Lied Centers of Kansas and Nebraska
  • "Two Sketches for String Quartet," based on Indian, by Charles Tomlinson Griffes (1884-1920)
  • "Quartet in C major" Op. 59, No. 3, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Cellist Jennifer Kloetzel explained that the afternoon's selections were chosen to include three categories that were important to the group: "the old masters, living composers and music that has somehow been 'lost.'" The "lost" music was that of Charles Tomlinson Griffes, who died at the age of 35 before his reputation was firmly established. The living composer, the talented and personable Coleman, was present and spoke briefly to the audience.

The Haydn quartet, led by the assured playing of Cecily Ward, was exceptional for its crisp entrances, dramatic pauses and finely distinguished dynamic variations, especially in the quiet passages. The third movement was filled with difficult tempo changes, which the group passed through in perfect unity. Viola and cello beautifully shared the melody with the violin in the fourth movement.

Lied Center patrons have been known to sit patiently through the more contemporary selections in order to get to the classics. That was not an issue here. No one wished Coleman's "String Quartet No. 2" or Griffes' "Two Sketches" to conclude quickly, as both were fresh and fascinating compositions. Coleman's quartet was contemporary without being arcane, and there was a sense that this composer placed innovation in the service of music rather than indulging in it for its own sake. Following his intention to make "the lower voices ... equal with the upper voices," he passed the melody from one instrument to another; he also incorporated strong contrapuntal elements emphasizing the distinctive voice of each instrument.

The first of Griffes' "Two Sketches," based on a Chippewa "farewell song" for the death of a member, was especially moving. The quartet had visited with tribal members and played the piece reverently. Anyone who has witnessed American Indian ceremonies would recognize the cello's pizzicato as drums, and the plaintive elegiac melody, especially when played in unison, as the tribe's singing voices.

The concert concluded with Beethoven's C major quartet. Beethoven never disappoints, especially in the care of a first-rate quartet like Cypress. The group played this challenging work consummately but without flashiness. The menuetto grazioso movement, the only minuet in all of Beethoven's quartets, was superbly graceful. Especially impressive in it were runs begun by the violin and continued seamlessly by the cello. The allegro molto finale, ending in its fine frenzy of bowing, provided a powerful conclusion to the concert.

The audience brought the Cypress artists back for repeated bows, and was rewarded with a charming and brief Barcarolle by Joseph Sek, Dvorák's pupil and son-in-law.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.