Within a decade of forming, the Quatuor Ébène transformed from a talented but youthful and virtually unknown string quartet to a highly respected ensemble with a prestigious recording deal and a touring schedule that included regular performances at major concert venues. Its dabbling into crossover repertory along the way has hardly hurt its rise, and its ability to vocalize on occasion has also added to its popularity and uniqueness. The Quatuor Ébène formed in 1999 when the players were students at the Boulogne-Billancourt Conservatory. The founding members of the ensemble were: Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violins; Mathieu Herzog, viola; Raphaël Merlin, cello. In 2015, Adrien Boisseau took over the violist's chair from Herzog, who left to do more conducting. Boisseau was replaced by Marie Chilemme in 2017. The ensemble remained relatively little known until capturing first prize at the 2004 ARD International Competition in Munich. Groundbreaking as that was, the Quatuor Ébène added icing to the cake the following year with the 2005 Belmont Prize from the Forberg-Schneider Foundation. In 2006, the quartet performed as part of the BBC's "New Generation Artists" scheme. That same year, it made its first recording, a disc of three Haydn quartets, on the Mirare label. From 2007, the Quatuor Ébène has regularly toured Europe, the U.S., and Canada. In 2008, the ensemble made its first recording under a new association with Virgin Classics, a disc of the quartets by Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel that would go on to receive the 2009 Gramophone award for Record of the Year. It is the Quatuor Ébène's classical side that has earned it its greatest successes, especially in performances of works by Schubert, Brahms, Borodin, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev, Bartók, and scores of others, but the crossover fare it performs has drawn much acclaim for its imagination and craftsmanship. The crossover music performed is typically in arrangements made by the Quatuor Ébène players, arrangements frequently sourced in film music. The group's take on the score from Pulp Fiction and Philadelphia, are two examples of more popular crossover hits. Quatuor Ébène's first all-crossover album was issued by Virgin Classics in 2010, a disc that featured arrangements of such numbers as Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Streets of Philadelphia, with additional artists Natalie Dessay, Richard Héry, and others. In 2020, Quatuor Ébène released a complete set of Beethoven's string quartets, titled Beethoven Around the World, launching its 21-country tour of the same name to celebrate Beethoven's 250th birthday.
© Robert Cummings /TiVo
© Robert Cummings /TiVo
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Classical - Released May 15, 2020 | Warner Classics
Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 4F de Télérama
The Quatuor Ébène timed this round-the-world Beethoven cycle to coincide with Beethoven's 250th birthday in 2020, beginning a worldwide tour and fortunately completing it before the outbreak of the pandemic in that year. The cycle was recorded in Philadelphia, Vienna, Tokyo, São Paolo, Melbourne, Nairobi, and finally Paris. CD buyers get a combination of travelogue and set of work descriptions, but it's not clear that the performances were influenced in any way by the globetrotting. This is, however, a very strong Beethoven set, with full-blooded performances perhaps unexpected from a group that made its name with French quartet music. Credit, first of all, goes to mastering engineer Fabrice Planchat, who followed the group around the world with a portable studio, recording, according to the ambiguous note, "live and in rehearsal" (there is no audience noise). The sound retains some of its original characteristics, including in an acoustically inferior Alliance Française Auditorium in Nairobi, but is stitched together into a coherent whole. The Quatuor Ébène generally offers high-intensity readings that relax at times into passages of passionate rather than delicate lyricism. In the String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131, the Allegro molto vivace of the second movement may seem to leave no room for the Presto of the fifth, but the group makes it happen. The late quartets as a whole are extremely compelling, with the group catching the odd mixture of comedy and existential dread in the String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135, and delivering a heartfelt "prayer of thanks of one who has recovered to the Godhead" in the slow movement of the String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132. An unusual feature among the late quartets is that the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130, concludes with the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, the work's original finale, rather than the finale on which Beethoven eventually settled. The early quartets get weighty readings that place them at the forefront of Beethoven's stylistic development rather than in Haydn's orbit; listen to the alternatively lovely and grim "La Malinconia" finale of the String Quartet No. 6 in B flat major, Op. 18. No. 6. Curiously, two of the three Op. 59 "Razumovsky" quartets are placed together on a single disc rather than being evenly distributed, but these too follow the pattern of fast tempos and high-energy readings. It may be that the Quatuor Ébène did not need to travel the globe to accomplish this, but the group's Beethoven cycle compels attention. © TiVo