Ensemble Music presents Ébène Quartet

The Ebene Quartet

To start this review I'm going to stick my neck out just a

bit: The Ébène Quartet's program contained each of the finest string quartets Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schumann respectively composed. This is my view and not

necessarily anyone else's: Mozart's Quartet No. 16 in E-flat, K. 428, the third of his

six dedicated to Haydn; Mendelssohn's Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13 (his first,

written at age 19); and Schumann's 3rd and last of only three quartets to come

from his pen, that in A Major, Op. 41 No. 3.

What is more unusual about this program is that the two violinists,

Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure switched places for the Mendelssohn

Quartet, with Le Magadure taking first violin position. Colombet was first for

the other two. In my years of attending string quartet programs, this is the

first time I've witnessed a position switch between first and second

violinists. I don't know why it was done, but the Mendelssohn suffered for it.

In a quartet exhibiting all of Mendelssohn's amazing young

genius (as in his earlier String Octet and Midsummer

Night's Dream Overture), Le Magadure, as lead violinist, tended to dominate

the group with a brilliant timbre and an excessively wide vibrato, straying

into adjacent pitches on a held tone, presenting a wobbly texture. For the

Mozart and Schumann, Colombet gave us a much better controlled tone, one that

blended more with his partners while Le Magadure softened his sound, allowing

the entire group to provide us with a more nearly perfect ensemble. Violist

Mathieu Herzog and cellist Raphael Merlin get a nod for their excellent

contribution throughout.

Given the above qualification, the Ébènes showed first-class

precision as a group. The Mozart K. 428, with its rich harmonic construction

anticipating Schubert among others, was given effective dynamic shaping from

the get-go: soft where it needed to be -- loud where apropos. The Mendelssohn

revealed the group's lightning technique in its management of the composer's

"elfin" passages strung over three of the work's four movements.

Schumann's No. 3 is a slighter work, opening with and its

first movement dominated by a "sighing" quote from Beethoven's Op. 31 No. 3

Piano Sonata. But it was the best played overall. With an arrangement of Earl

Garner's "Misty" tacked on as an encore, the concert ended on a most satisfying

"note." Feb. 26; Indiana History Center

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