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The month of May is packed with chamber music goodies at the Carol Woods Retirement Community. Its assembly hall is an ideal venue for intimate musical performances that attracts local music lovers as well as the community's cultured residents. The Bennett Quartet gave an impressive concert May 2018 and returned, with a 50% change of personnel, for an imaginative program of late Schubert and early Beethoven. The performers included violinists Erin Zehngut and Robert Anemone and violist Samuel Gold. All three are members of the North Carolina Symphony and the violinists take the lead chair in turn. Cellist Kirsten Jermé is assistant director of the Lamar Stringfield Music Camp in Raleigh and is on the faculty of the NC Chamber Music Institute and the Chapel Hill Chamber Music Workshop.
The concert opened with String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, D.804 ("Rosamunde”) (1824), by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). This, the first of the composer’s three mature quartets, was followed by No. 14 in D minor (“Death and the Maiden”) and the great No. 15 in G. No. 13 was the only one of the composer’s quartets to have been performed complete during his lifetime. Its nickname comes from the melody in the second movement which was drawn from the Entr’acte No. 3 incidental music from the short-lived play Rosamunde, Princess of Cypress. Its four movements are Allegro ma non troppo, Andante, Menuetto: Allegro-Trio, and Allegro moderato.
Despite changes of two players, the Bennett Quartet played with very good, carefully crafted ensemble and intonation. Anemone led the Schubert with a sweet tone as he spun the melodic themes. Each of the players produced fine tone while blending especially well with their colleagues. Phrasing and dynamics were stylish and well chosen. The melancholy of the first movement was beautifully expressed while never understating the dramatic interruptions. Their weaving of the permutations of the famous Rosamunde theme was delightful. Jermé’s dark, rich sound was a vivid opener to the Ländler-like third movement. They players gave full vent to the jaunty high spirits of the finale.
The concert ended with Quartet No. 3 in D (1799) from the set of six early quartets in Opus 18 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). The set is not in the order of composition; No. 3 is believed to be his first completed quartet. It mixes established Classical models with his personal approach. Its four movements are Allegro, Andante con moto, Allegro, and Presto.
Violinist Zehngut led this performance with a mellifluous tone to which the opening movement gave plenty of exposure. The players made the most of the contrast between lyrical passages interrupted by brusque, dramatic episodes. The second movement opened with Anemone’s mellow violin and featured delicate dialogs between instruments, some lovely trills, and full, throbbing lower strings. The tempo and mood of the third movement was well chosen and featured some lovely individual instrumental touches as well as fine pizzicatos. The players brought plenty of verve and high spirits to the Presto finale.
The Bennett Quartet, despite personnel changes, again impressed with their interpretive and technical mastery that reflected preparation far beyond any ad hoc group of players. I look forward to their next foray.