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Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Cypresses, B152 [31:07]
String Quartet No. 13, B192 [37:36]
Cypress String Quartet
rec. 28 July-1 August 2012 (Quartet, Cypresses 1, 3, 7, 9-12), 14-16 September 2012 (Cypresses 2, 4-6, 8), Skywalker Sound Studios, California
AVIE AV2275 [68:43]


 
Last year the Cypress String Quartet released a CD featuring Dvorák’s 12th quartet American, and I liked the playing but was bothered by the recorded sound. Unfortunately the same pattern continues here: the quartet delivers an edge-of-seat reading of Quartet No. 13 and pairs it with a laid-back Cypresses song cycle, but the sound is such that, for me, aural fatigue sets in.
 
The problem is with balance and high registers: the whole ensemble is harshly, coarsely portrayed, but the first violin (Cecily Ward, who produces and plays a Stradivarius) is especially over-bright, glassy. Forgive a metaphor that conflates sound with light: it’s as if the other three players are outdoors in a garden, and Ms. Ward is under a neon sign. I can’t imagine that the quartet sounds like this in concert, and it’s unfortunate that they sound like this on the two CDs.
 
It’s a major distraction, to me. The Quartet No. 13 is energetic, indeed too aggressive at times (the third-movement trio), but for reasons of polish and sound quality must yield to the excellent recent recordings by the Pavel Haas and Cecilia Quartets. Side note: Listen to the Cecilia Quartet! They’re fantastic! The Cypresses, for which the present quartet is named, are enjoyably played, with especially wonderful viola and cello solos (sample No. 9, “My dearest one”), but that first violin just about drowns out the second.
 
I’ve checked the MusicWeb International database for other discs by this ensemble; in 2011 Brian Wilson enjoyed their Beethoven and noted perhaps too-forward sound but no other complaints; an earlier Naxos disc of Benjamin Lees was reviewed without the sound being commented on. There’s maybe a chance that I’m the only person bothered by it, but to me the bother is very real. If you’re willing to fiddle with your stereo controls to tame the treble and tilt the balances, go ahead, but even then, the Cecilia Quartet has more promise.
 
Brian Reinhart