Mozart: String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421
Beethoven: String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131
Wayne Shorter: Footprints
Eden Ahbez: Nature Boy
Misirlou from Pulp Fiction
The Beatles: Come Together
Bradford Mehdlau: Unrequited
Astor Piazzolla: Libertango
Miles Davis: All Blues
Miles Davis: So What
After the low-key recital at Town Hall in the afternoon, I was more than ready for one of my favorite quartets ever – and, no, I am not saying that because they’re French– the fast-rising, endlessly versatile Quatuor Ebène. Moreover, the fact that their concert would take place in the intimate Zankel Hall of Carnegie Hall significantly added a healthy dose of excitement to my already mighty expectations, and I eagerly rushed to what has become an annual rendez-vous.
The first two pieces on the program paid an always welcome homage to two of the giants of Viennese music, Mozart and Beethoven. Although the four musicians onstage have been dazzling audiences with a constantly widening range of musical experiments, they obviously have not neglected their roots and their classically trained chops are as viscerally virtuosic as ever. The second of the “Haydn” Quartets, Mozart’s String Quartet in D Minor distinguishes itself by its deceptive simplicity and luminous elegance. Those two telling characteristics were all the more highlighted by the beautifully refined sounds coming from those assertive strings. The French boys were definitely back in town!
Considered by the man himself to be his highest achievement among his 16 quartets, Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp Minor is complex and intense, keeping the listener continuously engaged in finding out what will come up next. Nonplussed by the challenge, the Quatuor Ebène effortlessly adjusted gears and nailed the rebellious work with impeccable flair.
Once the old masters had been fully acknowledged, it was time to move on to the promised “Jazz and Pop Standards, reimagined by the Ebène Quartet”. Anybody who has been attending their concerts is fully aware of their long-standing commitment to improvisatory adventures into other musical worlds. In the past, this crossover tendency had routinely translated into unexpected, always inventive encores.
This time, however, with the open-mindedness of youth and the deciding power of an established ensemble, they kicked off the second half of the program to the smooth jazz overtones of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” and closed it on the catchy riffs of Miles Davis’ “So What”. Between those two tributes to the quartet’s self-professed deep love of jazz music, we got to delight in several other goodies such as a dynamite take on Pulp Fiction’s “Misirlou” and sustained languorous rhythms courtesy of Piazzolla’s much adapted “Libertango” (Fortunately sans accordion). The number that brought down the house, though, was a pared-down and still irresistibly infectious string version of The Beatles’ “Come Together” that would have made the other famous foursome extremely proud.
After the violist Mathieu Herzog confessed that their Paris-bound flight would take off at 12:20 AM from JFK, we decided to let them off after just one encore, an inevitably giggle-inducing a capella and then string version of “Un jour mon prince viendra” (One day my prince will come) from Disney’s Snow White (Is there any other?), which took me straight back to that concert at the Library of Congress where they first caught my attention three years ago. They’ve come a long way since then, and are only getting better. À l’année prochaine !