In April the Adderbury Ensemble toured Florida, and before you know it up pops the San Marco Chamber Music sextet from Jacksonville, Florida, on a 4-leg tour of Oxfordshire; two dates in Oxford, one in Witney and one in Adderbury. This Coffee Concert appearance included an eclectic eight pieces, the majority of them by American composers, from Leonard Bernstein to Delius via Samuel Barber and W. A. Mozart. The inclusion of a couple of transcriptions from
West Side Story, including 'I Feel Pretty', was, I thought, the sole misstep in the programme, their lightweight sentimentality a touch out of place.
Things got off to a doubly lively start before an audience numbering 156 by dint of the stars and stripes socks peeping out above the shoes of the four male ensemble members as they launched into a brief 'Jitterbug' jive by Peter Schickle. The last time I'd witnessed a Jitterbug was when watching the 1951 film Titanic starring Barbara Stanwyck and a youthful Robert Wagner. The latter performed a soft-shoe version on the boat deck of the liner a day or two before she hit the iceberg! Then came an abrupt rhythm change as the personnel was shuffled for a couple of Songs and Dances by the contemporary Bill Douglas. Here the oboe of ensemble co-founder Eric Olson carried the plaintive tune with a pleasingly pure tone.
After a Charles Ives march whose martial feel was mixed with a hymn-like undercurrent, perfectly appropriate given its Salvation Army title, we settled on the familiar territory of Samuel Barber's Adagio. My preference is for this slimmed-down version for string quartet rather than Barber's variant for full orchestra, and the San Marcos demonstrated why: the discrete contribution of violins, viola and cello came over beautifully in the perfect acoustic of the Holywell Music Room, particularly so the viola of co-founder Ellen Olson, finding a darker, thicker tone than the two violins.
Then came a piece descriptive of altiplano landscape by Argentinian Alberto Ginastera, with prominent flute: the birdsong introduction, dexterously managed by flautist Les Roettges, heralded abrupt changes of rhythm and I thought I detected traces of tango later; perhaps not surprisingly given that the programme notes told us that the composer was tango man Astor Piazzola's first teacher.
This was followed by an Intermezzo compilation by Delius, conjuring up the shade of Debussy with its impressionistic harmonies.
Good to welcome to these Coffee Concerts an accomplished band from the USA - a fillip to the spirits deadened by the navel-gazing of the current referendum campaign.