This afternoon Noontime Concerts at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral hosted a quartet that calls itself Strobe Music. The group was formed by cellist Krisanthy Desby to explore chamber music written for “strings, oboe and more,” as described in her biographical statement. The name is basically a mash-up of the nouns “strings” and “oboe.” The oboist is Laura Griffiths, and Desby is joined by string players Stephanie Bibbo on violin and Caroline Lee on viola.
To introduce themselves to the audience, Strobe chose to begin with the most recent of the compositions on its program. It was also the brashest, the Opus 2 “Phantasy” by Benjamin Britten, which he wrote for a competition at the age of nineteen. He did not win that competition, and the music did not receive very much attention during his lifetime. Indeed, the recording included in Decca’s 65-CD box set Britten: The Complete Works made for the first international release of the piece on CD. On the other hand the twentieth-century oboist Léon Goossens made it part of his repertoire. Strobe clearly felt that this music should be part of the oboe chamber music repertoire of the 21st century, and their performance made a strong case for this position.
The remainder of the program sampled the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The seventeenth-century composer was Jean-Baptiste Lully, represented by the chaconne in his 1665 collection (not published until after his death in 1705) Trios pour le coucher du roi (trios for the king’s bedchamber). The king was, of course, Louis XIV; and Lully may have assumed that familiarity would help the king drop off to sleep. The theme of the chaconne will be recognized by anyone with some familiarity of the music Lully wrote for the theater. The performance involved modern instruments (oboe, violin, and cello); but one could still appreciate the qualities of Lully’s writing, even if some recycling was involved.
The eighteenth century was represented by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and here, again, there seems to be a difference between the instruments the composer had in mind and those played by Strobe. The selection was the second (in C major) of the five K. 439b divertimenti. The Neue Ausgabe listed these as scored for three basset horns, but Strobe played as a trio of oboe, violin, and cello. The piece consisted of five relatively short movements, making for a mildly entertaining conclusion to the program. The choice of three different instruments allowed for a bit more appreciation of the interplay of the voices; but most likely the movements of all five of these divertimenti were not intended for anything other than “background music.”
The nineteenth-century composer was Franz Schubert. The piece was his D. 471 string trio in B-flat major, composed at the age of 21. This composition consists of only a single movement (unless that was the only movement that Schubert chose to complete). Yet there was a clear sense of youthful energy and optimism. The music came from a time when Schubert was prodigiously productive, and Strobe did an excellent job of capturing his youthful enthusiasm.
Taken as a whole this was a program with an imaginative and diverse approach to repertoire, all realized through the talents of capable musicians with a clear love for the music they choose to play.