The Martlet Ensemble: Barber, Bridge and Finzi

"A thrilling and beautifully balanced concert in which the performers were enthusiastically excellent. Giles Underwood deserves our deep thanks for raising the profile of music in Univ to this high level." 

John Dewey

The Martlet Ensemble made their final appearance of the academic year on 11th June, with a concert in Univ Chapel and music by Samuel Barber, Frank Bridge and Gerald Finzi. The players were joined by two of our current students; Frederick Waxman (2014, Philosophy & Psychology) as the oboe soloist in Finzi's Interlude for strings and oboe, and Isla Ratcliff (2014, Music) as second violin in the wonderful Bridge Idylls. Director of Music Giles Underwood sang Barber's Dover Beach to round off the concert and the year.

 

John Dewey has kindly provided this review:

 

'On 11th June in the College Chapel, a group of enthusiastic music-lovers gathered to hear the Martlet Ensemble with Giles Underwood, baritone, and Frederick Waxman, oboe, perform their third chamber concert, consisting of early twentieth century English and American music by Gerald Finzi, Frank Bridge, and Samuel Barber. The Martlet Ensemble is Univ’s string quartet in residence founded in 2014 by Giles to develop musical talent in, and to promote the reputation of, the College as a place of extra-curricular music-making.

Finzi (1901-1956) wrote much of his music in a wistful, tonal, elegiac style yet with occasional dissonance in his later compositions. His music’s rarity of obvious joy was possibly the result of the early loss of his father and three brothers. He was taught by Ernest Farrar, who was killed on the Western Front, and he greatly admired his contemporary pastoral landscape composers Elgar, Ireland, Howells, Bliss, Vaughan Williams, Rubbra, Butterworth, Gurney, and Holst. Interlude for Oboe and String Quartet (1932-36), in flowing polyphonic style, is widely considered to be his chamber masterpiece. The opening section for strings is peaceful; the oboe comes in gently after a few minutes with a great range of moods during a progressive rise to an intense pitch and tragic tone over about ten minutes. Waxman’s technique and interpretation was superb against the vigour and clarity of the quartet.

In Bridge’s (1879-1941) Three Idylls for string quartet (1906), the viola is prominent in the melancholic opening of the first movement, evolving into lyricism. The introspective theme of the second Idyll is, perhaps, his most played apart from his tone poem The Sea, and was used by his pupil Britten in his Variations on a theme of Frank Bridge. The lively finale was played with great fervour and warmth while the subtle and changing moods of the work were captured very well.

Barber (1910-1981) was an enigmatic blend of traditionalist and neo-romantic whose melodic lines eschewed the experimentalism of his contemporaries Walter Piston, Roy Harris, and Aaron Copeland. His 1931 setting of Matthew Arnold’s despairing poem Dover Beach for baritone and string quartet enhanced the bleakness of the poem in contrast to his 1947 reflective and beautiful setting of James Agee’s text Knoxville: Summer of 1915. Dover Beach links human misery to loss of faith and individualism through its portrayal of the ebb-tide with the grating roar of pebbles on the beach. Giles Underwood’s powerful baritone voice rendered a sensitive and memorable interpretation.

All three pieces have a tense sad longing in a thrilling and beautifully balanced concert in which the performers were enthusiastically excellent. Giles Underwood deserves our deep thanks for raising the profile of music in Univ to this high level.'

 

John Dewey

Oxford,

June 18th, 2016