In performance: Ebène Quartet, minus one
Eh bien, Ebène: Quartet threesome plays the Kennedy Center
by Robert Battey
France's youthful Ebène Quartet had to scramble when its first violinist took ill on the eve of a U.S. tour. For its Kennedy Center appearance Tuesday night, the remaining members opened with Schubert's early String Trio in B-flat, and then joined with American pianist Orion Weiss in the Fauré G minor and Brahms C minor piano quartets. It was of course a not-fully-seasoned performance, but most disappointing was that the Ebène could not present any of the outre crossover arrangements that have brought it world-wide buzz.
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Weiss is a very impressive pianist, but he and the strings had little to say to one another; the strings kept to themselves, struggling vainly at times to be heard over the more thunderous passagework. The Ebène's entire approach to their instruments and musicmaking was counter to what was being required of them. Their bows glide across the strings, rather than digging in. As shown in the Schubert trio, their hyper-detailed playing mainly explores nuances at the lower end of the dynamic spectrum. Spinning out long, full-throated vocal lines is not a central tenet of the French string aesthetic, and in the gutsy Brahms quartet, one often lost the musical thread even when the pianist let the others come through.
Although a drowsier player than his colleagues, violist Mathieu Herzog provided the evening's high point early on, in the Menuetto of the Schubert; a wonderful solo full of droll wit, hinting at what we were missing from the Ebène's jazz repertoire. One wishes their colleague a speedy recovery.
-- Robert Battey
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