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Review: Quatuor Ebène

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4 stars

Ensemble Music International Chamber Series, Indiana History Center, April 13.

Luminous in execution of the music and in their stage presence, Pierre Colombet (first violin), Gabriel Le Magadure (second violin), Mathieu Herzog (viola) and Raphaël Merlin (cello) left the audience awestruck. Their interpretations brought new insights to the emotional underpinnings of three classical works usually looked upon as antithetical to what we expect from the composers. Most if not all of us were ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling,’ not just hearing the intent of the music.

A classic is, of course, a transcendent work as personal to the listener now as it was to listeners in previous centuries. Yet the world from which the music originally evolved is different from the present, and this is what the France-based Quatuor Ebène is about.

They play as contemporaries to Mozart, Bartok and Mendelssohn, who once startled listeners with compositions unlike anything they had ever heard. We too were startled by this quartet’s emphasis on the usually harmonious Mozart’s dissonance, sunny Bartok’s desolateness, subtle Mendelssohn’s jarring syncopations. They plumbed each composer’s state of mind.

It was evident from the start they work independently and together like jazz artists—facial expressions and body language emulating the mood of every measure and side glances communicating cues to drive the story.

With Mozart’s Quartet in C Major, K.465 distinctive personalities evolved, with Bartok’s Quartet No. 3 the four players showed they could trumpet as one voice and with Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80 a sundered soul finds its way to unity. An overall richness from the Italian-made instruments was particularly laudable with the cello, whose resonance seemed to float above the others.

The “surprise” encore was their jazzy rendition of “Misirlou” from their newest album, Fiction. They record with Virgin Classics and Emi Classics. More at www.quatuorebene.com

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