Inspired and personal readings of Mozart’s quartets from the Gramophone award-winners.
Adrian Edwards 2011
The Ebene Quartet won the Gramophone Record of the Year in 2009 for their collection of quartets by their compatriots Faure, Debussy and Ravel. The extraordinary fluidity of their playing and the sense of wonder they bring to their music making, noted at the time, are present once more in this compelling coupling of two of the six quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn, his old friend and fellow freemason. Mozart and Haydn were joined by fellow composers Vanhal and Dittersdorf as the instrumentalists for the first performance of these quartets.
This CD takes its Dissonances title from the nickname of the Quartet in C, KV 465, which begins with 22 bars of sustained chromatics where the melody line passes between the three upper instruments over a repeated bass note played by the cello. With string tone cut down to the minimum vibrato, the Ebene play this passage with an acute sensitivity, a characteristic of all their playing, acknowledging the phrasing of the music in a seamless line. In the concluding bars of the last movement of the Quartet in D minor, the Ebene take the forte marking down to an unmarked pianissimo, bringing this expressive movement to a haunting conclusion. The two quartets contrast well with the lighter Divertimento KV 138, where the playful outer movements enclose a rapturous andante.
The Ebene’s leader, Pierre Colombet, notes that Mozart’s music not only requires "absolute technical assurance… but, above all, the ability to let go and bare all," which is assuredly present here. The very desirable sweet tone of the leader’s playing at the start of the allegro of KV 465, which follows the dissonant introduction, and his finely nuanced phrasing of the menuetto and trio in KV 421, are just two examples of his innate musicianship. The mutual understanding between all the players shines through in the tender exchanges between first and second violin in the heavenly slow movement of KV 465 and in the corporate relish with which they dash off this quartet’s finale with its forward-looking modulations.
With four further Haydn quartets and two companion divertimenti in the canon, it won’t be long before the Ebene follow up these inspired and personal readings with two further discs.