Cypress String Quartet

The American Album: Dvorák, Griffes, Barber, Puts

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The threads that connect the string quartets on this "American album" by San Francisco's Cypress String Quartet are a little tenuous. The booklet speaks of the mixture of ethnic influences that has been characteristic of concert music in the U.S., but two of the works, Kevin Puts' Lento assai and Samuel Barber's String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11, do not use ethnic materials at all. And even the proportion of American material in Dvorák's String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96 ("American"), has been debated. In fact it is the variety, the breadth of American music that is emphasized. Yet the program, with its single contemporary work at the center, holds together unexpectedly well. The Lento assai by Kevin Puts (born in 1972) seems at first like an odd choice, but its transcendent mood, specifically referring to the late Beethoven quartets, is echoed in some way in all the other music. The Dvorák receives an unusually fluid performance, with the sections of individual movements joined together so as to give the music a kind of ecstatic continuity. The Two Sketches Based on Indian Themes of Charles Tomlinson Griffes are an underrated and under-heard work, rooted in French music yet apparently authentic enough in their melodic material to have it recognized by a Chippewa consulted by the group. Barber's quartet contains the original version of the famed Adagio for strings, and the more often you hear it performed by string quartet, the more likely you are to prefer it: it seems a less ceremonial work that way. In any event, this is an original program of American music that is likely to find listeners well beyond Columbia's shores.

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