Carol Woods Retirement Community‘s fine Assembly Hall was well-filled with resident music lovers and friends for a winning program, the pairing of a quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and a quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). The Bennett Quartet’s members are all members of the North Carolina Symphony. The members are first violinist Erin Zehngut, second violinist Maria Meyer, violist Sam Gold, and cellist David Meyer. For the great K. 516 quintet, the quartet was joined by violinist Zehngut’s brother Gareth Zehngut, a member of the Minnesota Orchestra.

String Quartet No. 63 in B-flat, Op. 76, No. 4, “Sunrise” by Haydn finds the composer at the peak of his powers. The Bennett players’ intonation and phrasing choices were excellent throughout the standard four movements. Violinist Zehngut brought a wonderful spontaneity to her ascending opening phrase of the first movement from which the nickname has been given. Cellist Meyer brought a dark richness to his corresponding descending phrase. The slow Adagio movement gave ample opportunities to the players’ care for matching each other’s playing style and tone. There was a suggestion of a rustic dance, perhaps even of a droning bagpipe, in the Minuet. The Rondo finale, with its counterpoint and variations, was given plenty of playful high spirits, before ending in a hell-bent-for-leather dash played as fast as possible. Haydn could never resist a joke or unexpected stunt.

From the high spirits and joy of Haydn, the Bennett joined by violist Gareth Zehngut, took up the sorrow-laden String Quintet No. 4 in G minor, K. 516. Brother and sister faced each other at the front of the group. Mozart is unforgiving, and it was clear the players had prepared well from their nearly flawless intonation and precise ensemble playing. The tension of the opening Allegro, with its plaintive, broken phrases was sustained beautifully. The sound of the pairing and juxtaposing of the two violas were fascinating, their richness and individual colors were remarkable, Pauses were given their full value. They captured the ungainly rhythms and chromaticism of the Minuetto very well with its fleeting brighter Trio. Their seamless playing of the Adagio ma non troppo, all strings muted, was breathtaking. A highlight of the slow Adagio introduction to the Finale was violinist Zehngut’s singing line above cellist Meyer’s inexorable pizzicatos before a little over 3 minutes in, G (major) breaks out, and all ends as sunny as the concert had begun with Haydn. It is too much to watch the fast playing to wonder whether the “happy ending” is too facile.

The North Carolina Symphony, over the course of adding young players to replace retirees, seems to have given birth to several fine, new string quartets. Do not miss a chance to hear them!