There are few works in the classical repertoire as expansive as Mozart’s Quintet in C major, K515 – the opening Allegro is actually longer than any movement of its kind before Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony whilst its spacious character seems to prefigure Schubert. Its long arching phrases were captured brilliantly here by the Ebène Quartet and viola player Antoine Tamestit, who brought out not just the work’s luminous elements but also its darker, wistful undercurrents. One could not have hoped for a better rapport between the players, though occasionally the music’s dramatic contrasts could have been exaggerated even more and whilst Raphaël Merlin’s cello contributions were driven and secure in the cadential passages they were rather too lugubrious elsewhere. The playing of guest viola Tamestit was showcased in the following Andante but, for all its huge, expensive sound, in all but the most harmonically adventurous passages his tone lacked nuance and his phrasing was wooden. In many ways he worked better when playing second viola in the G minor quintet, where his full bodied C string really carried. On the whole, however, it was the musicality of the Ebène’s own viola player that stood out; Mathieu Herzog relishing his urgent accents in the finale of the C major and digging deep emotionally in the G minor Quintet’s Trio.

Ebène Quartet © Julien Mignot
Ebène Quartet
© Julien Mignot

Indeed, the Quintet in G minor provided many of the concert’s highlights, from Pierre Colombet’s sensitive handling of the opening Allegro’s searching second subject to the wild dislocating fortes in the Minuet, which were powerful and raw without ever destroying the sense of the barline. It was in the slow introduction to the finale, however, where these performances reached their peak of expressivity. Right from the rapt cello pizzicato and anguished chromatic leanings in the second violin, the full extent of what this exciting group are capable of was made clear.

At the centre of the programme was the first UK performance of a quintet by Bruno Mantovani. The work’s opening minutes, which opened out from a hyperactive unison recitative to fall on dark gleaming harmonies, were persuasive. Later, a number of flamboyant solos allowed the Ebène s to really show off their mettle – the commitment of second violin Gabriel Le Magadure being particularly impressive, as was the phenomenal sound produced by the two entwined violas. Later, however, this concision and sense of direction dissipated, replaced by a succession of rather aimless passages filled with mawkish glissandi before a perfunctory ending brought the work, rather unconvincingly, to its close. One could hardly fault the performance, though, which blazed with energy and dedication from the first note to the last.