La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 14 April 2011

France’s Ebene Quartet Offers Up Technique and Flair, Classical and Pop

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

France’s Ebene Quartet may look pretty, but its four male members are more than just pretty faces.

That much, with charisma and originality to boot, was evident on stage at Walter Hall April 11 as part of the chamber music series put on by the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music.

First violinist Pierre Colombet, second violinist Gabriel Le Magadure, violist Mathieu Herzog and cellist Raphael Merlin — on average about 30 years old — performed pieces they have already recorded together
. The changed the order of the programe and the two quartets planned for the first half were swapped. So the foursome attacked the first work, Debussy’s Quartet in G minor, Op. 10, with an abundance of freshness that was at times bold, at times sensual and always tightly focused. Their body language was accentuating without being distracting; their sound as a whole was nicely balanced.

Bartok’s third quartet, originally set to open the program,
was animated and delivered with the same technical prowess from each player. The one-movement work with four sections came across almost as cinematic, with outbursts of particularly rhythmic, melodic and harmonic passages. These four guys appeared mildly interested in making the music more complicated than necessary and wildly enthusiastic about making it accessible in every possible way without dumbing it down.

After intermission, “The other Ebene Quartet” returned on stage for a second half that was devoted to jazz and pop standards as reimagined by the players. From Wayne Shorter's Footprint to Eden Ahbez's Nature Boy, Misirlou from Pulp Fiction, Brad Mehldau's Unrequited, Astor Piazzolla's Libertango, Miles Davis' All Blues and So What to Beatle's Come Together for the encore — all pieces featured on the quartet's latest album, Fiction — Colombet, Le Magadure, Herzog and Merlin clearly demonstrated their collective genre-defying versatility.

No doubt this is a young, fast-rising string quartet that is both entertaining and worth paying serious attention to. The players' shared love and interest to perform and record both classical and non-classical music is admirable, even though there was a clear separation between the two in this particular program, intentionally or not. The jazz and pop set was less impressive as it lacked a level of unceremonious pass-me-a-beer feeling. Perhaps they should have tried losing the jackets, but only Herzog and Merlin did so right before playing Misirlou.
A couple of times, Herzog even egged the audience on in clapping for his colleagues' solos, something that usually comes without having to ask for it in jazz.
It was like people were being told it was okay to let loose and make some noise. They gladly obeyed by offering up a standing ovation with applause, cheers and whistles.

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