Quatuor Ebène at Wigmore Hall [Mozart & Borodin]

String Quartet in D minor, K421
String Quartet No.2 in D

Quatuor Ebène [Pierre Colombet & Gabriel Le Magadure (violins), Mathieu Herzog (viola) & Raphaël Merlin (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 23 May, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Quatuor Ebène. Photograph: www.quatuorebene.comFew opening statements in Mozart’s chamber music are as profound as the beginning of the second of his six ‘Haydn’ string quartets. In this performance from Quatuor Ebène, opening a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, the depth of feeling was further enhanced by the unusually soft dynamic applied, the musicians’ bows feather-light on the strings. This proved the first of many carefully considered insights, part of a cultured approach to Mozart that was stylish but serious, given the emotional weight of the music. Though on the slow side, the first movement achieved this aim, while the Andante had lighter moments in its second subject, making good use of the opportunity for pausing and reflecting. Here Pierre Colombet led the way with graceful playing.

There was grace, too, in the detailed and personable performance of Borodin’s abundantly tuneful Second String Quartet, though Raphaël Merlin’s opening solo could have been more strongly projected. The players demonstrated a clear love of the composer’s writing, enjoying the abrupt interjections of the finale. In the scherzo there were strong precursors of Ravel in which a lightness of touch at the beginning gradually asserted itself until an emphatic finish, while the famous (“Kismet”) ‘Notturno’, if a little cool, steered well clear of sentimentality.

For their encore the musicians turned towards their jazz roots with a performance of ‘Nature Boy’, the Eden Ahbez song based on the theme of the second movement of Dvořák’s Opus 81 Piano Quintet, Raphaël Merlin taking the lead with a flurry of pizzicatos, setting a fast bass line over which his colleagues improvised with considerable aplomb.

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