Lovers of classical chamber music could have spent their Valentine’s Day last Sunday indulging in the romantic side of the repertoire in intimate, truly chamberlike settings.
I received a special Valentine’s present in the form of two such concerts in one day: the Cypress String Quartet in the low-slung wooden Woman’s Club of Palo Alto, and the Boreal Trio in the high-roofed brick Kohl Mansion in Burlingame.
The Cypress Quartet has announced the unvalentine news that it’s breaking up at the end of this musical season after 20 years as a group. So this concert of two of the most delightful and beautiful works in the Romantic period repertoire, Brahms’ two string sextets, was one of the last chances to hear the musicians together.
The Cypress Quartet consists of violinists Cecily Ward and Tom Stone, violist Ethan Filner and cellist Jennifer Kloetzel. To complete the ensemble, these four invited two musical friends, Barry Shiffman — formerly of the St. Lawrence Quartet — on viola and Zuill Bailey on cello. They both blended in ideally with the Cypress players in a warm and woody sound.
The sextets are both early works, but they’re still ruminative and discursive in the manner familiar from later Brahms. Sextet No. 1 in B-flat, Op. 18, is the more formally presented and the more transparently laid out of the two. But despite its almost Bachlike coolness, it had moments of melting beauty. Sextet No. 2 in G, Op. 36, is more rhapsodic and meandering, yet also of great charm. These were memorable performances by all six players.
There’s still more opportunities to hear the Cypress Quartet before it goes, especially in San Francisco where the players are giving several concerts, including a miniature Beethoven festival in early May, and one more small salon concert in Palo Alto May 22, for which tickets are still available. Information is at cypressquartet.com/calendar.
Going up to Kohl Mansion, I found the Boreal Trio, which consists of clarinet, viola and piano. In one evening this trio presented the greater part of the extant repertory for these three particular instruments. Its most famous manifestation is the “Kegelstatt” Trio by Mozart, supposedly composed during intervals of a game of skittles. Like most Mozart, it’s a work of simple yet sublime beauty, awesomely played with smooth coaxing from Uriel Vanchestein’s clarinet and gentle touches from Wonny Song on piano.
Mozart was followed with more Romantic thoughts by Schumann and rather cheeky 20th century neo-classical ones by Jean Françaix, plus the finest works on the program, a group of short pieces by Max Bruch. Known mostly for one late Romantic violin concerto, Bruch was also a master of chamber music. These pieces, which he collected in his Op. 83, are no trifles but big, dramatic, engaging and thoughtful. Here violist Jean-Miguel Hernandez, a favorite at Kohl, came into his own.
A short original piece by Vanchestein plus his arrangement of a Chopin nocturne — that’s the way to increase the repertoire for an unusual combination — completed the program. Generally, the performing was better than the music, but the music was fine enough and the playing was really gripping. It was another warm Valentine’s Day concert.
The concert was preceded by a talk discussing the works, given by Kohl’s resident musicologist, Kai Christiansen. As always, he was knowledgeable, enthusiastic, easily communicative and informative about both the music itself and its background.
The next concert in the Music at Kohl Mansion series is the Lysander Piano Trio March 20, giving works for piano and strings by Beethoven, Fauré, Liszt and Charles Ives. Information is at musicatkohl.org.