Quatuor Ebène

Quatuor Ebène at SF Performances

SFP-EbeneQuartet

* Notes *
Tonight Quatuor Ebène (pictured left, photograph by Julien Mignot) had a San Francisco debut at Herbst Theatre. The evening started with Mozart's String Quartet in D minor, K. 421, which was played with much personality, and what seemed to be an entirely historically uninformed manner. Somehow the confidence and rapport of the players made the latter irrelevant. Borodin's String Quartet No. 2 in D Major may have been better suited to the style of the ensemble, the playing was lush without being cloying. The third movement Noctturno: Andante was especially delightful.

The second half of the program consisted of Ravel's String Quartet in F Major. It was clear the quartet took the tempo markings to heart. The rhythms in the second movement were quite exhilarating and the changing meters in the last movement came off well. The encore was introduced rather coyly by cellist Raphaël Merlin as a piece by a quartet from Liverpool. The following instrumental version of Lennon and McCartney's "Come Together" was therefore all the more charming.

* Tattling *
The audience was silent and attentive until the encore.


Quatuor Ebène at the Konzerthaus Berlin

Quatuorebene* Notes *
Last Tuesday the French Quatuor Ebène played at the Kleiner Saal of the Konzerthaus Berlin. The performance started with a bracing rendition of Haydn's "Rider," String Quartet in G Minor, Opus 74. The Allegro started off rather stridently, the pace was good, fast but not over the top. In the Largo assai, it became evident that the musicians had fine control and a good sense for dynamics. The Menuet was strangely moving, their playing was neither too precise nor sloppy, and the Finale, an Allegro con brio was especially playful.

Next was Bartók's String Quartet No. 2, which the quartet seemed to take most seriously indeed. I enjoyed the serenade-like pizzicato bit in the first movement, played by the cello. The Allegro molto capriccioso that followed seemed rather violent, but the last movement, a Lento was more atmospheric.

After the intermission came Brahms' String Quartet in C Minor, Opus 51. Personally, I am no admirer of Brahms, in me his music often evokes scenes of cows at pasture. From the beginning of this piece, I could not stop thinking about green fields filled with angry cows, for the quartet played fiercely. The Romanze sounded slightly more like Wagner, perhaps Das Rheingold. My favorite was the Allergetto molto moderato e comodo, as the theme is beautiful and I enjoyed the rhythm. The last movement, another Allegro, seemed tempestuous again.

* Tattling *
The Kleiner Saal is such a pretty little hall, but the ordering of rows is a bit strange. Instead of beginning with A or 1, the first row is D, followed by E, and then 1. This caused minor confusion before the concert, but it was settled by the time the music started. At any rate, I found myself in the very middle of the first row, which was vaguely embarrassing given I was wearing my silliest outfit.

The people next to me in Row D Seats 7 and 8 seemed very unhappy with the Bartók, and left at the intermission. However, the rest of the audience clapped quite a lot at the end. The first encore came with a little story from cellist Raphaël Merlin in nice clear German. He joked that the French are not as musical as the Germans, and that they only have one night of classical music on television, during Les Victoires de la Musique. However, when Quatuor Ebène invited to perform at this event last year, they were asked to play the theme music to Pulp Fiction. After the story was told, they actually did play the song, and I nearly died of laughter.

The second encore was for a record of film music, the song "Someday my Prince will Come" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The string quartet actually started off the song a cappella in French, played their instruments, and finished singing. It was all a little surreal, but they have nice voices, so pulled it off.