Bruce Hodges attends the performance of Schubert, Haydn and Bartók at the Perelman Theater, Philadelphia, on 6 April 2024 


Ébène Quartet. Photo: Julien Mignot

It’s not often that a group seems slightly rattled by audience noise, but in the second half of the concert, shortly after the Ébène Quartet began Schubert’s vast G major Quartet D887, a stray sound in the Perelman Theater audience caused its first violinist to stop abruptly, toss a few impatient words towards the left side of the hall, and then start again. Not to make light of the disruption, but – given the quality of the playing – it would be hard not to take a small bit of pleasure from hearing a portion of the work twice. It is high praise when an ensemble can regroup so effectively after a disruption, and ultimately the Ébène’s artistry, not to mention the composer’s majesty, shone forth.

Thankfully, the first half proceeded without incident, starting with Haydn’s String Quartet in G minor op.20 no.3, given appropriate gravitas in the opening movement and the Menuetto. But if the work is less ticklish than some of the composer’s other quartets, the players managed to boost the effervescence by the sheer will of their tone and expert timing.

For Bartók’s Third String Quartet, a 15-minute coiled spring of a piece, the foursome gave each of the composer’s rare minerals its own focus and microscopic attention. Aside from marvelling at the sheer calibre of the playing, we were made aware of the research and discussion that underpinned the actual performance – the result bringing many in the audience to their feet in admiration.