Brahms Sextets: The Cypress Quartet’s Swan Song

The San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet disbanded last summer after twenty years. Their final recording, featuring Johannes Brahms’ two String Sextets, was released in January. The Cypress was joined by cellist Zuill Bailey and violist Barry Shiffman for the album, recorded in front of a live audience at the Skywalker Sound Studio. Recently, the Cypress Quartet’s cellist, Jennifer Kloetzel, sat down with Richmond Public Radio’s Mike Goldberg to talk about the recording.

Here is the first movement of the String Sextet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 36. The additional cello and viola create a more “symphonic” sound when compared to the more common string quartet. With the exception of early examples by Luigi Boccherini, few composers wrote for this combination of instruments at the time. Brahms’ Sextets were followed by similar works by Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Schoenberg, and Korngold. There’s a haunting undercurrent of quiet mystery from the opening bars of this movement. Listen for the sense of conversation between instruments and all of the unexpected harmonic twists and turns. I hear occasional echoes of Schubert’s chamber music in some of the most harmonically restless moments. (Can you hear “Death and the Maiden” here?)

  • Brahms: String Sextets, Cypress String Quartet, Barry Shiffman, Zuill Bailey iTunes
  • Cypress String Quartet, complete discography iTunes

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