The Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival continued this week with a very strong performance by the Tesla Quartet along with pianists Lenore Fishman Davis and Inessa Zaretsky. The 320-seat Kittredge Theatre on the Warren Wilson College campus benefited from the ceiling acoustic panels that were added in last year’s renovations. It is a fine small performance space, ideal for chamber music.

The Tesla Quartet was formed in 2008 at Juilliard. Members are violinists Ross Snyder and Michelle Lie, violist Edwin Kaplan, and cellist Serafim Smigelsky. The violinists trade off playing first and second parts. In their early to middle thirties, these young musicians have already melded into a first rate ensemble. (More information about the group is here.)

First on the program was Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 5, Op.18, No. 5, with Snyder in first chair. In the first movement, the players showed both the muscle and the sweetness that are part of Beethoven’s breadth of emotion. The Menuetto displayed the four string players as shifting dance partners. The Andante Cantabile is a theme and variations with heavy accents and raucous outbursts alternating with other variations that provide quiet contemplation. In the final movement, the Tesla Quartet displayed confidence and sensitivity at a very rapid tempo. Smigelsky was looking very pleased as the quartet finished, and well he might.

In addition to being the festival director and a fine collaborative pianist, Inessa Zaretsky is an interesting composer. I have heard several of her previous chamber works, of which my favorite was Sandburg’s Corner, based on five poems by the American poet and scored for soprano, flute (and piccolo), and piano. But now I have a new favorite. We were treated to the world premiere of Muted Gestures, Zaretsky’s sextet for piano four hands and string quartet (commissioned by Lenore Fishman Davis). Loosely based on scenes from silent movies, the work cleverly invoked romance, Chaplinesque pratfalls, and even a King Kong-like terrifying denouement. The entire piece is unified by a recurring 3/4 waltz that drifts in and out of focus. The Tesla Quartet (with Ms. Lie in first chair) and the two pianists gave a convincing performance.

Zaretsky and Davis returned to the stage following intermission, and gave a letter-perfect performance of Gabriel Fauré’s well-known Dolly Suite for piano four hands. Their interpretation was straight down the middle, but that’s what you hope for. There’s no need to gild the lily, and no need to fancy up the Dolly.

The Tesla Quartet (with Mr. Snyder back in first chair) then showed their emotional range with Claude Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, Op.10. I was fascinated with cellist Serafim Smigelsky’s close attention to the other players; he appeared to have the entire first movement in his memory. Subjects are passed back and forth from instrument to instrument, and this was done seamlessly. The droll second movement has a lot of pizzicato passages, and the players retuned their instruments before continuing with the Andantino. The viola provided an ethereal conclusion to this quiet movement. The final movement again showed close collaboration. The harmonic progressions are vintage Debussy.

In response to audience demand, the quartet gave an encore: a transcription for string quartet of Debussy’s piano prelude “La fille aux cheveux de lin” (“Girl With the Flaxen Hair”). Written with a simplicity that contrasts severely with the complex harmonies contained in most of Debussy, it was an apt choice to quietly end the evening.

This program will be repeated on July 22 in Waynesville. For details, see the sidebar.

This festival continues through July 30. For details of the NC concerts, see our calendar.