Saturday, May 4, 2019 | 8:00 pm
Few other string quartets delight with the verve and joy of Quatuor Ébène. Elegant, playful, and enthusiastic, its performances are not burdened by reverence for the form’s imposing history, but lifted by it. They render the weightiest of masterpieces with an inviting lightness and a sense of discovery. Founded two decades ago in conservatory rehearsal rooms as a distraction from academic studies, Quatuor Ébène has maintained this crucial excitability, leading to major accolades and an unusual crossover success. Dubbed “freshly compelling” by The Guardian, they have altered the very essence of what it means to be a modern string quartet.
In Durham, Quatuor Ébène begins with Beethoven’s Quartet in F Major, a gliding work of sophisticated sensitivity. It tips its cap to Haydn and takes off in its own direction, in marked contrast to the last piece on this program, Beethoven’s late Quartet in C-sharp Minor, a rapturous beauty. This piece is for many chamber music devotees the greatest work ever written for string quartet. Between these two contrasting works of Beethoven is the sole quartet of Gabriel Fauré, one of his last pieces. It is unorthodox, playing with structural expectations to create a dynamic, fluid arc. Quatuor Ébène is widely considered its definitive interpreter.
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, op. 18, no. 1
Fauré: String Quartet in E Minor, op. 121
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, op. 131
“The Ébène played with no-holds-barred fervor.”