This young French group has long exhibited an enterprising intelligence and personality that delivers a detailed, interior view of the music.
In contrast to the Promethean Marlboro manner of the 1970s, Quatour Ebene has a reined-in sound envelope that doesn't translate into emotional reserve or suaveness but creates a cleaner landscape for the music's expressive events, more than groups who "play out" emphatically.
Schumann's quartets aren't his most accomplished works. The String Quartet Op. 41 No. 3 is often played as an extension of his more lyrical piano and vocal works. With Quatuor Ebene, melody was never emphasized at the expense of other events simultaneously happening in the music. The effect was a revelation of the piece's strangeness, but not the same strangeness heard elsewhere in Schumann.
Having paid special attention to Mendelssohn (the group's Erato-label recording of quartets by Felix and his sister Fanny is very much worth having), Quatuor Ebene's reading of the String Quartet Op. 80 (written by Felix after Fanny's death) definitely broke a sweat in ways not noticed elsewhere in the program. The tidiness of Mendelssohn's craftsmanship can give the impression of emotions tamed by a safe, civilized package. By no means did Ebene fight the scale that was of the composer's time, but showed how lightning can be captured in small containers.
Since the French care less about musical categories, Ebene's encore was a harmonically saturated version of the
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