To kick off the 44th season of the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival, the Enso String Quartet, accompanied by horn player William Hoyt (also the Music Director of the festival) and pianist Inessa Zaretsky, performed a dramatic and varied program at the Performing Arts Center at Shelton House in Waynesville.

The Enso Quartet alone, consisting of violinists Maureen Nelson and John Marcus, violist Melissa Reardon, and cellist Richard Belcher, opened the program with the tasteful, captivating Mozart String Quartet No. 19 in C Major, nicknamed “Dissonance” (called such for the introduction to the first movement, which, in Mozart’s time, sounded very dissonant). The piece itself is typical string quartet fare and demonstrated the tremendously high level of musicianship the Enso String Quartet possesses. With virtuosic passages, abrupt and challenging mood shifts and no margin for error, the piece allowed the quartet to establish and further their reputation as one of the eminent string quartets of our era.

With the conclusion of the Mozart, the group left the stage and returned with, for lack of a better term, something completely different. Accompanying the full quartet was a fifth member, the Music Director of the Chamber Music Festival, horn player William Hoyt. The reason for the fifth member, as quickly explained by Mr. Hoyt, is that the next work the group was to perform was a 20th century piece written by German-American composer Bernhard Heiden (pronounced just like “Haydn”) entitled Quintet for Horn and String Quartet. This four movement work definitely reflected the style and training of the time it was written (1952), and called for a tremendously different skillset from the Mozart. Mr. Hoyt was able to seamlessly integrate himself into the musical spirit the members of the quartet established, and it made for a powerful and entertaining performance. The most moving (and challenging) moment of the work came at the end of the second movement, which started with a horn melody played at mezzo piano which then got quieter and quieter, down to almost nothing, causing the audience to lean in and strain to hear if the group was even still playing. That moment was one of those rare experiences that can only be created by performers of the highest caliber, and I consider myself honored to witness it. However, the second half of the program topped even that.

There was naught but one piece on the second half of the program, and that was the emotional, heart-wrenching work of Brahms, Piano Quartet in C Minor. As this was only a quartet work (rather than a quintet like the Heiden), violinist Maureen Nelson joined the audience to allow the skilled pianist Inessa Zaretsky to take the stage. Like Mr. Hoyt before her, the integration with the remaining members of Enso was seamless. All throughout the work, her passionate playing charged the entire auditorium with emotion, causing the audience to experience firsthand the emotions Brahms felt as he wrote his tribute to unrequited love. The highlight of this performance was the third movement, which Zaretsky explained at the beginning of the piece to be a love song. The love theme was easy to spot, as cellist Richard Belcher poured his soul into every note, filling the room with exquisite sadness.

The members of the Enso String Quartet are skilled and accomplished musicians, and together they make wonderful music. I strongly encourage chamber music enthusiasts as well as concert-goers looking for a more intimate experience to seek out an opportunity to see this group (as well as their guests) perform.

This program will be repeated on June 25, in Swannanoa for details, see the sidebar.

The quartet will then appear in another round of concerts starting June 30; for details, see our calendar.