Friday, 9 September 2011

The Champagne Flutes play at the Holy Cross Crediton Sunday 27th August

On the last Sunday of August the Church of the Holy Cross in Crediton (usual venue for St Boniface Society concerts) was the venue for a concert by Tina Guthrie's 'Champagne Flutes'. Returning after four years for a fundraising event, they performed a delightful evening of woodwind music - with Tina's husband Nigel adding his keyboard skills on the piano and organ.

The Champagne Flutes arrive at the Church of the Holy Cross
Celia Waghorn, Jan Cave, Tina Guthrie, Jane Kimberley
The concert opened with the glorious baroque sound of Luigi Boccherini's 'Minuetto', which was followed by Anton Rubinstein's nineteenth century romantic masterpiece, 'Melody in F'. Originally written for piano, the version we heard was arranged for flute quartet by late twentieth century jazz pianist and flautist, Ricky Lombardo. Although contrasting in style the two pieces were a perfect combination to showcase the exceptional skills of this very stylish woodwind ensemble.

The 1921 Harrison and Harrison Organ

A further contrast was provided by Nigel Guthrie who played us the wonderful 1895 'Suite Gothique' by Léon Boëllmann on the mighty Harrison and Harrison organ. Alex West entertained us with this wonderful piece at Glenorchy on 27th April, on the rather more modest Bevington organ (details). Nigel got the very best from the organ with its penetrating bass and ominous treble swell. He divided the suite into two parts to be played in each half of the concert. The initial introduction and minuet ended with a sustained throbbing bass note which filled the entire building. Then silence. The organ and console are out of sight in a side aisle, and the audience were unsure whether he would continue. Fortunately Tina was on hand to explain that the last two movements were to come later - a very welcome prospect.

Nigel Guthrie plays Boëllmann's Suite Gothique
assisted by his son Robbie

The four flautistss then played another two contrasting peices - this time in reverse order. Their arrangement of the 1953 piano and oboe 'Pastorale' by Eugène Bozza 'Jour d'été à la montagne' ('A summer's day on the mountain') ended with an impression of sweet birdsong from Jane Kimberley and Jan Cave, while Celia Waghorn and Tina Guthrie priovided the sound of fluttering birds' wings. This was immediately followed by an arrangement of 'Greensleeves'. Often attributed to King Henry VIII, this is actually in an Italian style popular in England during the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I, the earliest published version being from 1580. The familiar tune was immediately recognisable, but embellished by a wealth of contemporary harmonies by the four flautist - a very clever arrangement.

Filling the Church of the Holy Cross with sound
The lead flautist, Tina Guthrie, then treated the audience to another of her great talents. Tina is the Musical Director of the Torbay Singers, and an accomplished soprano singer herself. Accompanied by her husband Nigel on the grand piano (with son Robbie turning the pages), Tina sang the traditional Dorset song 'Linden Lea', with nineteenth century words by Dorset poet William Barnes and set to music in the twentieth by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Tina's clear and carrying voice was strong and consistent, conveying the tender emotion of the words with smooth dynamics - wonderfully audible to everyone in the church.
By popular demand - from those with fond memories of Tina's last performance - Tina then sang the traditional (18th/19th century) American folk song 'Oh Shenandoah'. The lyric is compelling but confusing, the hero, crossing the Missouri on his trek to the West with his beloved, reminisces nostaligically about the rolling waters of the Shenandoah in his native Virginia. Tina's highest notes were impressively powerful - and skillfully matched by Nigel, deftly swelling the volume on the piano.

Tina Guthrie sings soprano solos

Tina's soprano solos were followed by another solo - by Jane Kimberley on the alto flute. (The picture below shows Jane playing her piccolo flute.)
'Romance Number 1', by nineteenth century La Scala flautist and composer Giuseppe Rabboni, was a lovely choice of tune and played by Jane with a lovely carrying sound. Modest and unassuming, Jane stayed in her usual place at the back of the stage and couldn't be photographed while she was actually playing this piece - but the sound was gorgeous!

Jane Kimberley plays piccolo flute

 The first half ended with a collection of pieces composed specifically for flute quartet by contemporary American composer Catherine McMichael. 'Gaelic Offering' includes  four spirited pieces in a traditional Irish Gaelic style. 'Rose Cottage', is a gentle piece in the mould of Jane Ross' nineteenth century Northern Irish arrangement of a traditional folk tune, 'Londonderry Air'. It was opened hauntingly by Celia Waghorn and Tina, augmented with gentle harmonies by the other players - and ended on a perfect high harmony.
'The Doubtful Wife' was a brisk dance led by Jane Kimberley, with additional power provided by Jan Cave. A series of complex runs led to an inspired ending by Jane - on the piccolo flute. (See photo above!) Jan then bagan the soft and resful 'Lake Solace', and the first half ended with the fast and choppy sound of 'Describe a Circle'. Wonderful stuff.
After the interval - and refreshments - the quartet returned to the late nineteenth century for 'Notturnino' ('Nocturne'), opus 37 by Vincenzo de Michaelis, and 'Traumerei' ('Dreams') from Robert Schuman's 'Kinderszenen' ('Scenes from Childhood'). Nigel completed Boëllmann's 'Suite Gothique' with the gentle 'Prière à Notre-Dame' ('Prayer to Our Lady') and the thrilling 'Toccata' ('Touch') where Nigel's virtuosity evoked the excitement and terror of an early silent horror movie. The audience were very impressed!
Then there was another modern piece written specifically for flute quartet - by Ricky Lombardo in 1997. 'A Flûtée Celebration' included three pieces for the full range of flutes (bass, alto, 'C' and piccolo). 'Creation' involved a teasing interaction for bass and alto on one hand, with 'C' and piccolo on the other. 'Moods and Styles' was another fun interaction with a solo section for Tina on the 'C' flute. 'Jubilation' was softer and more spiritual - hinting at wide open spaces, with each flute going its own way.
Jane Kimberley added a special arrangement of her own - this time of a song by a Canadian composer - 'Hallelujah' from the 1984 album 'Various Positions' by Leonard Cohen. This involved another wonderful solo by Jane - this time on the bass flute. (Sorry. No picture again!)
Tina gave us another stunning soprano solo with Vivian Ellis' 1929 hit 'Spread a Little Happiness'. Whether people were remembering the original or Gordon Sumner (a.k.a. 'Sting')'s version from the seventies, there was a distinct element of audience participation - great fun.
Even more fun was Celia and Jan's duet for two piccolos - Robert Burke's 'Piccolo Polka' - followed by an arrangement of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic 'Three Little Maids' from 'The Mikado', for three flutes. The fascinating harmonies on Arthur Sullivan's tune sounded just like three voices singing William Gilbert's song.
To complete the concert everyone joined in. All four flautists, and Nigel on the piano. 'Flutes play Fledermaus' is one of Suffolk flautist Sylvia Fairley's delightful takes on orchestral classics - in this case Johann Strauss' 'Die Fledermaus' ('The Bat'). The selection of themes were so familiar that a certain amount of joyous audience participation was inevitable - and welcomed - followed by very sincere applause.
There was just time for a little encore - 'something pastoral'. The theme was immediately recognisable: 'Londonderry Air', beautifully arranged and ending with a glorious improvisation on the last note.
Not only a wonderful treat for concert-lovers during the relatively 'concert-free' summer months, this was also one of the very best concerts this year. Holy Corss in Credition is definitely a venue to watch - and 'Champagne Flutes' have once again shown themselves to be a truly superb musical ensemble. Many thanks to all concerned.

Many thanks to Tina and the Champagne Flutes
 Mike Gluyas  his wife Wendy were at the concert with all their equipment, and made a first class recording. After editing, and with Tina's permission, we hope to hear some of this concert on air on Phonic FM. (Listen in to the 'Classical Journey' on Tuesday mornings for an update on that.) Meanwhile we can hear the studio version of some of the pieces we heard at Crediton - and others - on the brand new 'Champagne Flutes' album, 'Perfectly Chilled', also painstakingly recorded and edited by audio maestro Mike Gluyas. Listen in to the 'Classical Journey' this Tuesday when we can hear them playing a little Mozart - between 10.30 and 11am.

Tina Guthrie, as Director of the Torbay Singers, will be joining forces with Andrew Daldorph and the Exeter Chamber Choir - and the Torbay Symphony Orchestra - for an Autumn Concert including Richard Strauss' 'Four Last Songs' and Johannes Brahms' 'German Requiem' . . . with soprano soloist Catherine Hamilton. (Catherine sang Mahler's 'Resurrection' at Exeter Cathedral on 14 April this year. See CJ website for full details) This concert will be held at Totnes Civic Hall this Sunday evening, 11th September, as the grand finale of the Totnes Festival.  Not to be missed!
(Scroll down below the 'Compagnie Giulia' post below (jump), or follow the link to 'Concert Listings' on the right of this blog for full details of that concert.)

Apologies to Tina, but I must mention for the benefit of all flute quartet fans, there will be two more concerts of music for flute quartet on 17th & 18th September by the 'Festive Flutes'. This is a completely different group headed up by Devon concert flautist Mel Orriss. Mel is familiar as lead flute with the Exeter Bach Society. (Scroll down post on 7th November last year for details.) Mel also heads up her own flute quartet 'Festive Flutes' whose members work in various places across the UK (See 19th December post for details of their Christmas concert last year.)
Their concerts on Saturday and Sunday will a little 'far country' (Thurlestone and Tavistock) but well worth the trip from Exeter to see this superb ensemble. See the post below, or the 'concert listings' link from this site, for details of the two concerts.

Long live the flute quartet!

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