The Concertante Chamber Players, the third ensemble featured in the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild‘s 2013-14 Masters Series, performed two contrasting string sextets at Fletcher Opera Theater. The first, Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s String Sextet in D Major, Op. 10, was written upwards of 50 years later than the String Sextet No. 1, in B-flat Major, Op. 18, by Johannes Brahms. Although the two sextets have similar structures, their styles are very different. Specifically, Brahms exemplifies the structure of the Classical period, while Korngold wrote in the Late Romantic style. Comparisons of these two composers were automatically invited by featuring their work together in the program, adding another dimension to the concert.

Two violins, violas, and cellos comprised both sextets. Korngold’s began its allegro movement with a viola melody, adding the other instruments one by one. An abstract sound was immediately apparent from the beginning. The melody was often chromatic, motivating the rise and fall of the accompanying chords. In general, the piece and its chord progression were quite unpredictable, but the way the instrumentalists played seamlessly together made this composition seem easy to understand. As with the allegro movement, the following adagio movement seemed to have no specific sections or repetitions, but rather a more gently leaping melodic line combined with dissonant chords. The melody switched back and forth among the three different instruments – notably, when the cello carried the melody, the piece was given a more foreboding tone due to the chromaticism used in the melody.

The third movement contained more contrasting elements than those of the first two movements. First, there were sections of strong waltz rhythms led by pizzicato in the cellos, but duple and triple meter were used interchangeably throughout the movement. The use of pizzicato highlighted the movement, as the violins outlined the chord progression in this fashion. The fourth movement, in typical rondo style, employed a repeating melodic motive, often in the cellos. The instrumentalists increased the tempo and fervor of their performance to build up to grandly end the sextet as a whole.

Brahms’s sextet began with a tone entirely different from Korngold’s. Although the melody was initially led by a singular instrument, the structure within each movement was much more noticeable. In the allegro first movement, this simpler structure made recurring deceptive cadences more powerful. Some chromaticism was used, but primarily in the progression of chords and not the melody itself. The slower theme and variations of the second movement, written in a strongly accented duple meter, led to a joyful minuet and trio. This movement exuded a sense of movement and dance that was also reflected in the physical expression of the chamber players. The musicians closed their concert with the final movement, a rondo. Beginning with a full yet also delicate sound, the rondo increased in speed as the motive was repeated, similar to the rondo in Korngold’s sextet. With a flourish, the chamber players concluded their concert on a triumphant note.

And indeed the playing throughout was triumphant. The superior musicians were violinists Xiao-Dong Wang and Lisa Shihoten, violists Danielle Farina and Ara Gregorian (the latter, based at ECU), and cellists David Requiro and Alexis Pia Gerlach. The communication between the two violists was perhaps the most notable. Farina, who also has a background in pop music, coordinated her playing flawlessly with Gregorian, especially at the ends of phrases. Violinist Xiao-Dong Wang often was the first to begin the melody of a movement with a solo, and this was always done successfully, leading the other musicians into their intertwining yet unified lines.