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Cypress String Quartet
When a concert is interesting, sometimes it's the performance that grabs your attention. But sometimes it's the music that is revealed by the performance.
The Cypress String Quartet, in residence at San Jose State University, opened the 30th season of concerts at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown on Saturday with two 20th-century American pieces, Griffes's Two Sketches for String Quartet and Barber's String Quartet, that don't get performed all that often.
Textures were beautifully balanced (particularly evident in the glowing Barber second-movement Molto Adagio, which is high on many people's all-time-favorites list); sonorities were clean and rich. The ensemble, while not rigid, was comfortable.
But it was Dvorak's "American" String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 96, an old repertoire regular, that made the evening special. Tempos were chosen to bring out a more personal reading than most -- a slow tempo for the first movement's second theme that provided some leisurely space for reflection, and a hair-raising vivace for the finale.
There were opportunities for gorgeous cello and viola solos and, throughout, the music emerged as a conversation rather than a convention. Dvorak has rarely sounded so good.
-- Joan Reinthaler
It seems fitting that Los Angeles noise-rock trio Qui introduced itself Friday night at Iota as "Fugazi Osbourne." The former was a winking reference to Ian MacKaye's presence at the foot of the stage, and the latter was perhaps an allusion to new Qui member David Yow, who was well known for his stage antics in the Jesus Lizard.
(Yow's antics mostly included nudity and crowd-surfing, though; nothing as controversial as the doings of Ozzy O., the former Black Sabbath frontman.)
Yow's stage presence has mellowed over the years, but his voice hasn't lost its edge; his bellow on "Today, Gestation" and "Freeze" recalled the raucousness of his earlier band.
He did show remarkable versatility, though, with his melodic whisper on "A #1" joined by the surprisingly melodic harmonies of guitarist Matt Cronk. While Yow strutted and ranted throughout the 50-minute set, the band wasn't always just about him: The instrumental first half of "New Orleans" found Cronk and drummer Paul Christensen creating a bluesy sludge that wasn't wanting for vocals.
Mid-set, Yow climbed up on a platform and sat cross-legged to watch his band-mates play "Apartment."
The song was one of the heavier, denser numbers of the night, but Cronk's back-turned performance and Christensen's uncaptivating vocals showed by contrast how much more engaging the group is with the addition of such a dynamic frontman.
-- Catherine P. Lewis