Concert from June 25, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana
Products from three centuries filled Wednesday evening’s Rubens Quartet program in Auer Hall, the first of three local appearances by this fine ensemble, visiting from the Netherlands.
One heard 18th century Mozart, the Quartet in F Major, K.590, to open the concert, Brahms 19th century B-Flat Major Quartet, Opus 57, to end it, and — in between — Leos Janacek’s 20th century Quartet Number 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” Not only did the musical fare stretch across time, but it gave the performers a wide range of material to contend with, which they did masterfully.
The Mozart K. 590 was the composer’s last quartet, and it is a wonder of shifting moods and musical developments that not only express his classical era but that looked forward into the beyond. In the opening Allegro moderato, one seems to listen in as the four musicians converse, almost as if informally. In the Andante that follows, the music turns into meditation; is it about life already lived or about the mystery of what’s to come? The Menuetto supplies juicy ornamental passages to flood the ears. The closing Allegro is frolicsome and flashy, abundantly supplied with all manner of enticements for the listener and challenges for the players.
At intermission, Maestro Thomas Baldner, so long the honored teacher of conducting at IU’s Jacobs School, came breathlessly to my seat, super excited about the music and wondering out loud: “What more might Mozart have done if he had 10 added years to live?” Indeed. But, thank goodness for what this miracle of a creative artist left us, such as the amazing K. 590, performed by the Rubens — whenever called for — with inviting intimacy, with joyous exhilaration, with introspection, and, throughout, with to-be-envied technical assurance.
What a shift came from the Mozart to the Janacek Quartet No. 1, which retells the story in expressive musical form of a Leo Tolstoy tale about two men having a conversation on a train during which one tells the other he has murdered his adulterous wife and her lover. The music, sometimes lyrical and at other times savage, potently reflects the story’s highly charged content. The Rubens foursome (violinists Sarah Kapustin and Tali Goldberg, violist Roeland Jagers and cellist Joachim Eijlander) infused the music with great passion and yet also, one felt, with just as great care, so that Janacek’s fevered vision came full force to the fore.
Brahms’ B-Flat Major Quartet is more light-hearted than much of his chamber music; he insisted it was his favorite of the three quartets he wrote. One hears very danceable moments in the score, along with a string of inviting opportunities for the musicians to entertain their listeners. And take the opportunities the Rubens Quartet surely did, to the full.
Concert from June 29, 2014 in Bloomington, Indiana
Save for some engrossing Beethoven to conclude the second program of its current visit on Sunday afternoon, the Rubens Quartet turned to works far less often heard on the western concert circuit.
How often, for instance, does one hear Anton Webern’s “Langsamer Satz” (“Slow Movement”) to open or to be included when a string quartet comes calling? How about a quartet written by a 20th century Turkish composer named Ulvi Cernal Erkin? And then, five folk songs from various parts of Eastern Europe; they’re a way out choice.
The Rubens four made a case for each selection by performing one and all in Auer Hall with urgency and a persuasive ardor.For this listener, before the concert began, the yearning was to hear the Beethoven once again, the Opus 132 in A Minor, one of his much admired late quartets. And when the time came for that performance, the yearning was more than satisfied.
But the music that came before gained my full attention and made me give silent thanks to the Rubens for unexpected enjoyments, even a few thrills. The Webern, of course, was not new to me. This “Slow Movement” was written in 1905 by a 21-year-old composer inspired while hiking in Lower Austria with a young lady who later became his wife. The music is dreamy and lush, reminiscent of late Brahms, of Richard Strauss and Mahler, far removed from what would drip from Webern’s pen not long thereafter, when tonality became a reject in his style. The Rubens’ reading was gorgeous, reflective of a sweeping and heated enunciation of young love.
The Turkish Erkin was partially trained in Paris where one of his teachers was the influential Nadia Boulanger. His music blends the sounds of his native land with elements of European expression: late Romantic, Impressionistic and modern. That made his Quartet, written in the mid-1930s, not at all difficult to like. One heard strong hints of eastern lyricism and harmonics but modulated, softened, altered, blended with western facets and details. Again, the choice seemed a wise one, in that the musicians had the measure of the mix and mined the music to the full.
Dance and celebration and love and, perhaps, wine marked the parade of five folk songs the Rubens chose to introduce for their exuberance and lilt, their teasing rhythms and melodic warmth, songs from Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria and Greece. The music was delightful; the playing thereof was equally so, bringing well deserved cheers from the audience.
Then, to wind up the afternoon, came the Beethoven Opus 132. The quartet, written while the composer was seriously ill and thereafter, features at its center a slow movement above which these words, in English translation, are inscribed: “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode.” Hymn-like the music is, the expression of a grateful composer communing with his God. Far more precedes and follows that third of five movements, much of it introspective, not extrovert or extravagant, Beethoven. Through it all, the Rubens seemed to commune with the composer, allowing us in the audience to listen in. The musicianship was outstanding; the interpretive artistry, deeply moving.