The Quatuor Ébène, at the Folly Theater, gave impassioned and committed performances of Haydn, Mendelssohn, and various jazz selections.
Kansas City audiences were treated to a most unusual concert at the Folly Theater last Friday night; a string quartet that played both classical and jazz. Those that were in attendance will, no doubt, remember this concert as one on the best of the season. The four young men that make up the Quatuor Ébène took the stage and played with absolute mastery the music of Haydn and Mendelssohn in the first half, jazz selections in the second half, and were still able to delight and surprise with their encore.
The group started off with Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20 No. 5, Hob. lll:35. The first violinist, Pierre Colombet, played the first theme of the first movement, an Allegro moderato, with subtle rhythmic freedom that really made the music come alive. The quartet used vibrato expressively but sparingly, choosing to use a more period style approach. The next three movements were played with a wonderful unanimity of expression. It seemed as if one person was playing all the instruments because the musicians were so totally in sync with one another.
Next came a searing performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13. With full-throated sound and vibrato, the foursome played the beginning gorgeously and then went from strength to strength. The quartet switched violinists, with Gabriel Le Magadure taking up the first violinist role. In the center section of the second movement, an Adagio non lento, the tempo picks up and the Ébène played with such ferocity that one wondered if the jazz portion of its program had already begun. The Mendelssohn is a marvelous work, the structure seamless, effortlessly moving from one section to another, and when played with such passion and commitment can become a transformational experience for the listener. Such was the case listening to Quatuor Ébène. Bravos rang out at the conclusion and the audience members rose to their feet in acclimation.
For the jazz portion of the evening the group began with a beautiful arrangement of "Misty." Next came an upbeat "Nature Boy," with the cellist Raphael Merlin playing a fleet fingered pizzicato bass line under the melody. In the parlance of jazz, this really cooked. "Misirlou," a Greek song used by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in his film Pulp Fiction, came next, and it’s exotic mid-eastern tonality and infectious rhythm was greeted with hoots and hollers from the crowd. After that the quartet played an unfamiliar quieter piece; I didn’t catch the title or the composer. Then in Miles Davis’s "All Blues" violinist Colombet and cellist Merlin impressed with their virtuosic improvised solos. The Beatles’ "Come Together" came next in a wonderful arrangement that used varying string techniques, including using the body of the instruments for percussion effects. A scorching version of Libertango by Piazzolla, the Argentinian tango composer, ended the concert. Practically the entire second half was played from memory with the same extremely high level of commitment and passion that was present for the first half. For the encore the group announced that it would be doing something from the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, at which time the musicians began not by playing but by singing, in beautiful four-part harmony, a French version of "Someday My Prince Will Come." After singing the group morphed into playing but then at the end the voices came back and ended this wonderful concert.
Friends of Chamber Music
Friday, November 21
300 W 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit www.chambermusic.org