SCHENECTADY — The Ebene String Quartet gave it everything they had Thursday night at Union College’s Memorial Chapel, turning what might have been a conventional program into a celebration of the unexpected.
Violinists Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violist Adrien Boisseau, and cellist Raphael Merlin played with a spontaneity and freshness as if the pieces were brand new. The works by Haydn, Debussy and Beethoven are almost standard fare, but the quartet’s sense of wonder made every note seem important. And they explored with joy, great technical proficiency, and an impressive control over a wide dynamic range that sometimes changed as sudden as slamming a door.
They began with Haydn’s Quartet in C Major (1772), one of a set of several quartets Haydn wrote after not writing a quartet for almost a decade. The four movements had some of his trademark whimsy, interesting interactive parts, and occasional unpredictability. But Haydn was exploring, too: the use of a minor key with dramatic harmonies; a long first violin solo with a mini-cadenza; sudden dynamic shifts. The Ebene used little vibrato, played with wonderful togetherness and vigor, and shifted moods by altering their tone from eloquent to robust.
They were even more sensational in Debussy’s only Quartet in G minor (1893). Close flavorful harmonies, a mellow tone, soaring melodies, and high drama are invigorated by teasing moments, thoughtful passages that end in whispers or angular lines that erupt into fiery discourse. The Ebene played the music with deep passion and many shaded nuances.
They applied the same method to Beethoven’s Quartet in C-sharp minor (1825-26). Anything by Beethoven is considered epic, and this quartet with its seven continuous movements doesn’t flinch from pushing the envelope. Ideas come and go, styles unfold and become something else, yet the emotional intensity and the level of musical intelligence required test the best player. The work is also difficult to pull off because of the deep diversity of ideas, which are often separated by beats or a bar of silence.
The Ebene went for it with intense passion and a focused concentration. The lyrical melodies sang, the grating plucked notes shocked, and the scales were quicksilver. It was a great job and they got a standing ovation.
The concert was part of the Union College Concert Series.