Cypress Quartet takes on transcendent Schubert 

“If I don’t love the Schubert Cello Quintet, what kind of cellist am I?” asks Jennifer Kloetzel, founding cellist of the San Francisco-based Cypress String Quartet.

Her question isn’t surprising, considering the magnificence of the quintet, which the group will perform with guest cellist Jean-Michel Fontenau in a Noontime Concert program on Tuesday.

Written two months before Schubert died of syphilis, and neither published nor performed in his lifetime, the Cello Quintet rarely dwells on the composer’s unhappiness.

Much of it is sunny and glorious. The ravishing second movement andante, one of the most famous movements in all chamber music repertoire, is so serene that it speaks as from the other side.

Filled with an ineffable sense of peace, its only acknowledgment of Schubert’s pain comes in its searing middle section, where a few cries momentarily pierce the transcendent calm. The calm returns, a preparation before the joyous melodies that follow.

“What’s amazing to me,” says Kloetzel, “is that this piece lay forgotten for over 20 years. It was first published in 1853, 25 years after Schubert died.”

The Cypress Quartet plays about 90 concerts annually, touring nationally and internationally. On the road 100 days of the year, they recently performed in Boston, New York, Oregon, Carmel, Mill Valley, Pennsylvania, and the National Gallery and Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

When Kloetzel co-founded the quartet 14 years ago, its new members studied with three members of the Amadeus Quartet. Hardly surprising is her partiality for their recording of the work.

In general, however, she avoids listening to recordings lest they inhibit the emergence of her own inspiration. She’s also aware that the quartet’s guest cellist Fontenau, head of the chamber music program at San Francisco Conservatory of Music, will likely have a different conception of how the music should be played.

These issues will be hashed out and hopefully reconciled during four pre-concert rehearsals.

Kloetzel rejects the lush, huge cast many modern performers give to Schubert’s Cello Quintet. Noting that Schubert never owned a piano, and instead composed with a guitar, she expects he envisioned the quintet in intimate and personal terms.

“Our sound is different than what many people expect, because it is built from the bottom up,” she says. “We also look very carefully at the harmonies and foundation, with the upper voice sitting on the top of the harmony. We want our sound to be more than the sum of its parts.”

Cypress String Quartet

Presented by Noontime Concerts

Where: Old St. Mary’s Cathedral, 600 California St., San Francisco
When: 12:30 p.m. Tuesday
Tickets: $5 donation
Contact: (415) 777-3211,

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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