ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: String Quartets, Op. 18 Nos 1-6
PERFORMER: Cypress String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2348
The Cypress String Quartet is a San Francisco-based outfit of almost 20 years standing which has already won praise for its albums of middle and late Beethoven Quartets. They play an impressive array of vintage instruments including a Strad and an Amati and, in addition to their faultless intonation, they command a wide spectrum of tone, attack, colour and expression. The one slight reservation, at least as heard on these new discs, is that, between the incisive sweetness of Cecily Ward’s lead violin and the weighty firmness of Jennifer Kloetzel’s cello, the second violin of Tom Stone and viola of Ethan Filner can sometimes seem a bit subdued – this, despite the definition of the recording in what sounds like a salon-like space, rather than a more resonant concert hall.
Conscious of the achievement of Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven waited until he was 30 before publishing his first set of string quartets, and they remain a slightly unresolved mix of dutiful homage and pre-echoes of wilder things to come. The Cypress Quartet are alive to both elements: turning the Haydnesque formalities of the opening of Quartet No. 2 with pointed precision, yet bringing out all the turbulent darkness of the minor key slow movement of Quartet No. 1, which already sounds like middle-period Beethoven. Yet perhaps the most convincing reading is of Quartet No. 3, the earliest in order of composition. Here the lyrical first movement unfolds with a flowing ease while the marvellously inventive gigue-like presto finale has a dancing impetus that is irresistible.