EbŠne String Quartet pulls off impressive performance

Olivia Hendricks

Though the word “EbŠne” may be unfamiliar to concertgoers, most know that the word “quartet” indicates the incorporation of four musicians, not three, which is the number of suave, young French men that walked out onto the stage of the Memorial Chapel Friday, Feb. 5 as part of Lawrence’s Artist Series.
Yet while the audience may not have gotten what it expected, it certainly got something good nonetheless.
EbŠne Quartet members Gabriel Le Magadure, violin, Mathieu Herzog, viola, and Raph‰el Merlin, cello, were all present, but due to illness, first violinist Pierre Colombet stayed in France. Initially it was a little difficult not to be disappointed by Colombet’s absence, given the success the group has experienced as a whole.
In 2008, the Quartet released a Virgin Classics album featuring pieces by Ravel, Debussy, and Fauré that was named Gramophone December Editor’s Choice and received five stars from both BBC Music Magazine and London’s Sunday Times. Albums that were almost equally successful included a 2006 live Haydn recording and a 2009 Brahms recording.
While the original program would have highlighted compositions the Quartet is known for – Haydn’s “The Rider” Quartet, Brahms’s “Quartet in C Minor,” and Debussy’s “Quartet in G Minor” – the remaining three players instead had to alter the program to include Schubert’s “String Trio in B-flat Major,” Beethoven’s “Duet in E-flat Major for Viola and Cello,” and another Beethoven, “Serenade in D Major for Violin, Viola, and Cello.”
In addition, the quartet is known for its flexibility between genres. The players frequently throw in jazz pieces, pop pieces and other improvised works as treats for the audience during an encore, but with Colombet absent, the group was forced to stick to the trio-friendly but not-so-unexpected Beethoven for an encore.
Yet it can’t be said that the EbŠne Quartet – minus one – failed to exhibit flexibility. Instead, what was lost in flexibility of genre was made up for by flexibility of ensemble. The Lawrence audience was able to witness the ability of the players to conform to a new leader.
Le Magadure, who typically takes the passenger seat to Colombet since he is usually second violin, became the director for the night, since the violinist is typically responsible for giving cues.
The first piece, the Schubert, seemed a little shaky, with difficult sections such as rests followed by sudden bursts of music not always happening in sync. Nevertheless, the lower harmonies were rich and the comic effects within the music were emphasized by Herzog’s theatrical facial expressions.
For the second piece, violinist Le Magadure got a break during Beethoven’s duo for viola and cello, “With Two Eyeglasses.” This piece revealed again the ability of the ensemble to rearrange into a duet and still sound full.
Herzog and Merlin were especially skilled in tossing back and forth the melody. At the end of the piece, both musicians leapt up from their seats with a devil-may-care attitude, poking fun at the title of the piece when Herzog stole Merlin’s eyeglasses.
Yet while the second piece was fun, it wasn’t until after the intermission that the true quartet emerged. As if they had gone backstage, had a pep talk and came back out with twice the confidence, when the players played the final piece, the Beethoven trio, no one could complain that any element was missing, be it sensitivity, thrilling crescendos, unified ensemble, or even a fourth player.
From its carefully drawn-out harmonies, to its gemlike piano passages, from the adorable pizzicato sections to the heart-racing conclusion, the Beethoven was complete. The audience knew it, and so did the musicians. The applause was wild; and so was the style with which the encore was performed.
The EbŠne Quartet, renowned for its youth and innovation, finally emerged, maybe not in name, but certainly in attitude.