Chamber Music Review Print



The Stanislas Sextet in Greensboro: Excellence in Any Combination

April 14, 2009 - Greensboro, NC:


The final concert of Music for a Great Space ended the season on a high note and featured artists with both local and international connections. The Stanislas String Quartet is based in Nancy, France. Violinist John Fadial and cellist Beth Vanderborgh, while still principal players in the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, were introduced to the quartet and this led to regular tours exploring the sextet repertory. Although Music for a Great Space is based in Christ United Methodist Church, this concert, like most chamber music programs, took place in the intimate hall of Temple Emanuel. The composers and works chosen by the sextet were richly varied by nationality, style, and ensemble size. Two sextets sandwiched a menu sharing duties by a duo and a quartet. Musical background was given by Vanderborgh for the first half of the concert and by Fadial after intermission.

Richard Strauss' last opera, Capriccio (1942), is considered connoisseur's fare. Its apt subtitle is "A Conversation Piece for Music" and the opera's theme is an exploration of which is more important: words or music. The prelude to the opera is a sextet which is heard off stage, but when played with such refined tone and tight ensemble as the Stanislas Sextet exhibited, it makes a lovely stand alone work. Its melodic and mellow strands parallel the highly civilized interchanges of the opera. Former GSO Concertmaster John Fadial played the second viola while his wife, Vanderborg played second cello. His Stanislas Quartet colleagues were violinists Laurent Chase and Bertrand Menut, violist Paul Fenton, and cellist Jean de Spengler.

"Elegy for a Woman Who Died Too Young" (1992) by Robert Starer (1924-2001) was composed in memory of the great soprano Jan di Gaetani who taught at the Eastman School of Music. Alumni Fadial and Vanderborgh had selected this work in consultation with the late Henry Ingram to whom this entire concert was dedicated. Starer gives both the violin and cello a great deal of independent music, and the music is considerably more intense and passionate than the more common sad and slowly paced meditation. The duo gave a committed and searing performance with a full, rich string tone and wide palette of color and dynamics.

The Stanislas String Quartet was heard alone in an impassioned and superb performance of String Quartet in F minor, "Serioso," Op. 95 (1810) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).
The composer himself supplied the "Serioso" subtitle and the prevailing somber atmosphere of the piece reflects his growing bad health and deafness. Felix Mendelssohn called this quartet Beethoven's most characteristic work. This late Middle Period work's emotional range far exceeds its compact and tightly integrated score and many passages anticipate the composer's Late Period works. The Stanislas players phrased with a great sense of style, with precise intonation, and with vigorous use of a wide range of dynamics.

Fadial explained that Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky (1840-93) toiled over his String Sextet in D minor, "Souvenir de Florence," Op.70 (1892) for five years because the composer wanted to make the parts so equal it could not be transcribed for smaller forces. Most of the work is packed with gorgeous Russian melodies. Tchaikovsky only visited Italy late in this process and the name reflects his brother Modest's marketing suggestion. The Stanislas Sextet players combined clear delineation of themes with a plush, warm string tone. Fadial's violin shone in the first chair and his "bell canto" duet with Vanderborgh's cello in the second movement evoked the world of Bellini and Donizetti. One of the finest solos for violas opens the third movement and Bertrand Menut's luxurious tone gave full value to the part's sonority. The energetic fugue of the last movement was infectious and came off magnificently.