Notes and Editorial Reviews
Described by the New York Times as “a string quartet that can easily morph into a jazz band” the Ebène Quartet -- Ensemble of the Year at the Midem Awards 2010 – presents a programme of 16 pop and jazz tracks, with guest appearances from a quartet of female stars: soprano Natalie Dessay, jazz singer Stacey Kent, film icon Fanny Ardant and Spanish pop star Luz Casal.
“In everything we have been willing to do musically –- during all that time spent practising Haydn, Beethoven or Bartók –- there has always been a concealed dream of improvising and creating a new approach to playing string quartet,” confess the members of the multi-award-winning Ebène Quartet. This album brings that dream out into the open.
The Ebène’s first Virgin Classics CD, quartets by Debussy, Ravel and Fauré, was Gramophone's 2009 Record of the Year, also winning Germany’s Echo Klassik Award 2009, Belgium’s Prix Caecilia 2009 and a French Victoire de la Musique 2010, but this new collection, Fiction, sees them setting their special stamp on numbers from the pop and jazz repertoire.
Its 16 tracks embrace figures as diverse as Charlie Chaplin, Bruce Springsteen, Chick Corea, Harold Arlen, Wayne Shorter, Lennon & McCartney, Brad Mehldau and, in the title track, Nicholas Roubanis, composer of the main theme to Quentin Tarantino’s career-defining film, Pulp Fiction. Guest appearances are made by Virgin Classics’ resident diva Natalie Dessay, American jazz singer Stacey Kent, iconic French actress Fanny Ardant (who proved a sexy chanteuse in the 2002 movie Huit femmes), Spanish pop star Luz Casal and drummer Richard Héry.
The quartet’s members even do some singing themselves, with viola-player Mathieu Herzog taking the vocal lead in Springsteen’s ‘Streets of Philadelphia’ and all four performing a cappella in their rendition (en français) of ‘Someday my prince will come,” from Walt Disney’s Snow White – which has formed a surprise encore in such august venues as London’s Wigmore Hall.
Pierre Colombet, the quartet’s leader, explains that: “As an ensemble we try to be as broad in our repertoire choices as possible. Genres like pop and jazz are often overlooked by the classical world because classical music is so intelligent, but when other musical genres are played really well they can also reveal treasures. This is why it is important for us to play jazz and other styles of music for a classical audience – because it introduces them to something new; and equally jazz and pop audiences can discover that classical instruments are capable of different sounds. Our jazz-playing also helps to inform our classical performance. It enables us to look at the score from a different perspective and to see classical music as a kind of improvisation. We like to be as free as possible in our performance and for every concert to be slightly different.”
Writing in the New York Times, Allan Kozinn described how the Ebène Quartet, playing at the hip ‘multimedia art cabaret’ Le Poisson Rouge, in the heart of Greenwich Village “began conventionally, with quartets by Haydn and Debussy, and then morphed into a jazz band for a handful of freewheeling improvisations that included the Pulp Fiction piece, Wayne Shorter’s ‘Footprints’, Miles Davis’s ‘All Blues’ and Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’. As an encore the four musicians stood together at the centre of the stage and sang (in French) a richly harmonised version of ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’, and then dropped into their seats to give the tune a brief but zesty going over.
“Not long ago musical fence-hopping of this kind was suspect, mostly because the performers who tried it were great in one style and abysmal in the other. This group seems entirely natural in both.
“At Le Poisson Rouge the performance [of the Debussy Quartet] seemed even more intensely focused and hot-blooded than it does on the [Virgin Classics] recording, but its hallmarks were similar, down to the irresistible darkness of the opening movement, the almost whispered pianissimo playing in the Très lent and the calibrated impetuousness of the finale.
“After a short break the quartet returned for its jazz set, in which the cellist, Raphaël Merlin, frequently played like a jazz bassist, with as much pizzicato as bowing, and plenty of bent notes. His solos and those of his colleagues — Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, violinists, and Mathieu Herzog, violist — were spirited and consistently inventive. It would be hard to say which version of the Ebène quartet is more pleasing; but then, you don’t have to.”