Third Coast Daily, review for Milwaukee concert on January 27, 2013
"The Rubens Quartet, a young string quartet with extensive international credits, played at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Friday evening. The Rubens, based in Amsterdam, comprises violinists Sarah Kapustin and Tali Goldberg, violist Roeland Jagers and cellist Joachim Eijlander. Kapustin grew up in Pewaukee and was a stand-out at the Wisconsin String Academy. Friday, she recalled her debut at age 4 on the Wisconsin Conservatory stage.
The quartet opened with a bright interpretation of Beethoven’s first string quartet – Opus 18, No 3.
Kapustin opened first with a smooth, lyrical reading of the main theme. The players offered balanced support, then scampered together through rapid passages. This work allowed them opportunities to present delicate lines with a cleanly focused pitch and absolute clarity. The players performs as one tightly synchronized instrument and are precisely together on the common phrases. In the lyrical second movement, Goldberg and Kapustin extended the first theme as cellist Eijlander provided a solid counterpoint. Through the development, the players’ attention to one another became more and more apparent. During a section with short rapid notes, the quartet breathed as one to ensure their precise timing. After a graceful intermezzo third movement, the Beethoven ended with an energetic presto. They started fast and continued to accelerate with each iteration. The intensity of the movement was not expressed through volume, but through ever-rapid turns with a near-Mendelssohn like spirit until coming to a quiet end.
Although the Rubens Quartet respected the classical tradition in this early Beethoven work, they added energy to the performance. This interpretation was not likely to be the quartet Beethoven had in mind when he wrote detailed notes about its presentation. By punching it up, the players did not ignore Beethoven’s intentions but carried them beyond the more restrained classical mode of the day. The result was a bright, contemporary interpretation that served today’s audience very well.
The Rubens Quartet works closely with Dutch composer Joey Roukens and played Roukens’ Visions at Sea, from 2011, Friday. This ambitious tone poem opens and closes with a shimmering, Debussy-like apparition of sky and clouds over the Netherlands. Traditional sea songs emerge out of an atonal environment that transforms into a familiar tonal one, somewhat in the manner of Charles Ives. A storm, lightning and a shipwreck marked a central programmatic section. The quartet effectively painted the 'sturm und drang' of these sections, leaving the listener a bit sea-sick from the experience. I would have preferred that the work had reduced the literal nature of the programmed events. The quartet created effective imagery and clearly understood the intentions of the composer.
Milwaukee pianist Stefanie Jacob joined the quartet in Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor, an uncharacteristically Romantic and stormy work in the manner of late Schumann. The piano serves mainly as a backdrop for theme development within the strings. In section after section, energy and volume built to intense climaxes, which quickly dissipated. Delicate pianissimo passages lasted long enough to catch one’s breath before between build-ups momentum and volume. Early themes recur regularly throughout, but passion seems to hold more importance than the arrangement of themes. The quartet retained a tight cohesion throughout, controlling the measured acceleration and volume and adjusting precisely to the rapid shifts of pace and occasional full stops within the work. Initially, the piano provides a dreamy, flowing background, but ultimately a fortissimo piano adds weight to the frequent high drama.
The Rubens Quartet travels next to the University of Oklahoma to participate with four other quartets in a full Beethoven cycle."