There was a full house at St Peter’s Church on Sunday (November 24) for the second recital in the eighth series of performances by Brilliant Young International Musicians.
This was a first for this popular project that brings great music to Marlborough: a trio of oboe, cello and piano. And not just a first, Polly Bartlett (oboe) and her friends Findlay Spence (cello) and Jonathan Musgrave (piano), produced some adventurous ‘instrument-shifting’ during a varied and revealing programme of music.
Polly Bartlett is a third-year undergraduate oboe scholar at the Royal College of Music. She plays with the College’s Symphony Orchestra – and is about to play principal oboe in their performance of Holst’s The Planets at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. She has a strong interest in contemporary music.
Scottish cellist Findlay Spence is a scholar at the Royal College of Music who has performed major cello concertos with many British orchestras – and was principal cello with the Scottish Youth Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
Studying at the Royal College of Music, Jonathan Musgrave gained a first class honours degree and a Master of Music with distinction. He has a special interest in the British composer Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) whose manuscripts he has edited and brought to performance. He plays as a concerto soloist and an accompanist.
Playing as a trio appeared to be an enjoyable adventure for them. And the audience was obviously thrilled by what they heard.
The trio began their recital with one of the six oboe sonatas composed by François Devienne (1759-1803) – this provided a great introduction to the fluent and accurate playing of Polly Bartlett with the well-balanced accompaniment of cello and piano.
Antal Dorati may be best remembered – by audience members of a certain age – as a conductor featured regularly by BBC radio (Home Service?) in days gone by. His Duo Concertante for oboe and piano proved he was also a composer of exciting music.
The trio then performed Mozart’s one and only Oboe Quartet – with the piano doubling as viola. This was written at the time when the oboe in its current form was being introduced – and Mozart used the piece to test both instrument and player with three High F notes.
It was an exacting piece to choose, and it was accomplished with polished ease. The very short and very dark slow movement of just 37 bars, fitted especially well with the St Peter’s acoustic.
After the interval we had another adventurous instrument-shift – oboist Polly Bartlett played the violin part in Robert Schumann’s Six Studies in Canonic Form. With a helpful introduction from Findlay Spence – this work introduced this grateful member of the audience to a new musical form.
Schumann’s career was blighted by mental health problems and his three-part Fantasiestucke was written during one of his better and most productive years. Again we had some imaginative instrument-shifting – Schumann wrote for clarinet and piano.
Best characterised as a lyrical ‘song without words’, the three movements displayed an intriguing conversation between the three instruments, ending with a passionate final movement.
The group’s finale saw another instrument-shift – in Francis Poulenc’s Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon, Findlay Spence’s cello took the bassoon part. Polly Bartlett told us she preferred the cello to the bassoon in this 1924 piece. No one was going to argue with that as Poulenc’s piece was given a ravishing and exciting rendering.
This was a most extraordinary recital – extraordinarily brilliant. When some members of the audience were told that this was the (unnamed!) trio’s first recital together, they simply could not believe it. One member of audience said it was the best of all the performances they had heard in St Peter’s.
Each player seemed so at home with their instruments and also with this somewhat esoteric yet very rewarding choice of programme. It has to be said that Polly Bartlett’s playing was simply superb – and her oboe’s tone certainly suited St Peter’s high ceiling.
They had, of course, done hours of arduous practice together and shortly before the recital began, they were busy rehearsing in St Peter’s Church. But they played together as though they were a well-established trio well used to each other’s musicianship. They played beautifully and with such enthusiasm.
FOOTNOTE: turning pages for Jonathan Musgrave was pianist Timon Staehler. He is a sixth former at Marlborough College. He is bringing some friends of his to Marlborough for the next concert in the series – Sunday, January 26 at 7.30.
The friends are: Katja Maderer (violin/voice) – Sophie Kiening (viola) and Clara Eglhuber (violincello). At the time of writing, the programme will include two Bach Prelude and Fugues, a Beethoven sonata, two works by Schumann, Brahms’ Rhapsody No. 1 and Mendelssohn’s Rondo Cappriccioso.
NOTE: Christopher Rogers, who often reviews these recitals for marlborough.news, was unable to be at this one. So this ‘review’ comes from a member of the audience – without Christopher’s musical knowledge and expertise.