Critic’s Pick: Szymanowski and Ebene String Quartets

The Ebene Quartet performs at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium in 2011.
The Ebene Quartet performs at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium in 2011.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Music Critic

Could it be 2014’s freakishly warm weather that has caused string quartets to mushroom throughout the Southland? They are, it seems, popping up everywhere.

The year began, for instance, with a Monday Evening Concerts event devoted to the oddball outlier Chris Newman, who stood in his dirty socks and sang distracted, emotive songs. But for no apparent reason, the program also included an arresting performance of Beethoven’s “Serioso” Quartet taken at the composer’s insanely fast and rarely attained tempos, played by three members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the violinist Movses Pogossian.

The month has continued with more Beethoven from the Emerson String Quartet in Costa Mesa, four L.A. Phil strings taking on Bartók’s Fourth Quartet for the orchestra’s chamber music series (as well as an unusual bass quartet for a deliriously deep, as in low notes, new piece by Veronika Krausas), and the St. Lawrence String Quartet opening the first chamber music series of the new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.


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This weekend, there will be yet more.

The Szymanowski Quartet, founded in Warsaw in 1995 and known for an intoxicating, wine-rich tone, will perform in Mount St. Mary’s College’s intimate, gilded Doheny Mansion on Friday night. Among familiar Haydn and Dvorák will be one of the ensemble’s specialties, the Second Quartet of its namesake, Poland’s greatest early 20th century composer, Karol Szymanowski.

On Sunday afternoon, the dashing young French foursome Quatuor Ebène will join the Colburn Chamber Music Society at the school’s Zipper Concert Hall for the U.S. premiere of Raphaël Merlin’s “Elèa,” a concerto for string quartet and orchestra. The Ebène is a group that likes to go from jazz to tango to disco to pop to Mozart. Its cellist, Merlin, also happens to be a composer.

He has been in the news for something else as well. In May, Merlin had his Guarnerius cello confiscated by French customs officials in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport. That kind of thing is appallingly not news; it happens all the time. What is news is that Merlin has the clout to cut through bureaucratic red tape and got it back very quickly, undamaged.


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