Cypress String Quartet on stage

Glorious Ensemble Playing: The Cypress String Quartet!

Chamber Music Monterey Bay opened its new season last night at Sunset Center. Returning to CMMB for this event was the Cypress String Quartet. Its members, violinists Cecily Ward & Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel, were joined on this occasion by two distinguished friends: violinist James Dunham and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau,

The members of the Cypress Quartet opened the program with a performance of three Novelettes from Glazunov’s String Quartet, Op. 15. The program notes stated that these Novelettes “offer a superb introduction to the music of Glazunov, surely an enticement to explore this lesser known ‘great’ composer.” Perhaps also lesser known is Glazunov’s disastrous performance as conductor in the 1895 premiere of Rachmaninoff’s first symphony. Not only did Glazunov under rehearse Rachmaninoff’s Symphony in favor of other works on the program, but he also deleted a few sections, changed some of the orchestration and displayed a demeanor on the podium so inept that he occasionally miscued some of the players, causing near chaos. It has been alleged that Glazunov may have been drunk at the time, for his problem with alcohol was well known — it was reported by his pupil Dimitri Shostakovich (and echoed in the New Grove) that Glazunov often kept a bottle of vodka hidden behind his desk at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and discretely sipped it through a tube during lessons. Overlooking his shortcomings as a conductor, we have to admire Glazunov’s skill as a composer, for the charm of the Three Novelettes as revealed in the performance by the CSQ was undeniable and infectious.

We had a rare opportunity last night to hear a live performance of Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), a masterpiece of post-romantic expressionism so dense and complex it requires serious (and lengthy) study) to truly understand it. It is a work that is praised and studied, but heard more often in recordings than in concert. Last night heard the original version for string sextet, and it was a stunning performance. Full of gorgeous playing, subtle dynamics and elegant phrasing, the players gave us a performance of hypnotic beauty that convinced us we ought to hear it more often.

Ending the concert we heard the Brahms String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18, in a richly-detailed and expressive performance. It is a very long work (especially the first movement), and its length challenged an audience whose sensibilities had already been stretched by the intense performance of Verklärte Nacht. However, the most memorable part of the Brahms was the lovely and haunting second movement,Andante, ma moderato. This was Brahms at his best.

The members of the Cypress String Quartet (with their colleagues Dunham and Fonteneau) did themselves proud in this concert. This was glorious ensemble playing of the highest order. May they soon return.

Peninsula Reviews – Lyn Bronson, editor

by Lyn Bronson