Monday, 5 December 2011

Tasty Music extended - 'Cello+Flute = 'Festive Flute' Hilary Boxer and Ruth Avis at 'The Corn Barn' Cullompton Sunday 4 December (& Bicton 7 Dec)

In festive mood - Ruth Avis (Flute) & Hilary Boxer ('Cello)
on stage at the Corn Barn in Cullom
Hilary Boxer's 2011 'Tasty Music' series ended this week with a sensational new 'cello combination. 'Cello+Flute with Ruth Avis at the Cullompton 'Corn Barn' on Sunday was a superb blend of sounds for the final concert. For anyone who missed Sunday's fabulous concert, or who would like to hear Hilary and Ruth again, the concert will be repeated this Wednesday (7th December), with lunch, in Bicton College Music Room at 12.30pm

The concert is called 'Festive Flute'. There are some Christmas tunes included, and also a selection of baroque, classical and modern music, written or arranged for this glorious combination of sounds. Hilary's previous 'Tasty Music' collaborations have all involved other stringed instruments - David Cottam's guitar, Susan Steele's piano and Jane Pirie's 'cello. The contrast provided by the flute could not be greater. High against low, breath against bow, wood against steel.

breath . . .
. . . and bow
Ruth and Hilary opened with the music of classical German 'cellist Franz Danzi. Danzi was very keen to promote the flute and composed several pieces for the two instruments. Duetto No 2 was perfect for Ruth and Hilary. Hilary's 'cello was now in collaboration with another loud instrument. The flute and 'cello come across as separate sounds - double the pleasure! Three lovely movements ending with the amazing 'vivo'.

Next the 'Festive Flute' recital took the audience to the baroque period, and the music of George Frederick Handel. Handel, like Bach and Telemann, wrote an extensive repertoire for the flute. Ruth played his Sonata in E minor (with continuo provided by Hilary on the 'cello). There are four movements, starting with a 'Grave' which they played with extraordinary control. Hilary and Ruth played a later rearrangement by Handel with additions from his violin sonata, but the final presto they played in the original version from 1728 - with harpsichord continuo, played by Hilary on 'cello. It works!

Having played continuo for a while, it was Hilary's turn to shine. A Tasty Music series would not be complete without Hilary's 'Prelude and Gigue' (first and final movements) from Bach's First Suite for 'Cello. This delightful solo turn appears on her album 'Nocturne' with David Cottam, and has featured on the 'Classical Journey' many times. To hear it played live again after all this time was a very special treat. Maybe we can get Hilary to perform it live in the Phonic FM studio - that would be special!

It is possible to forget that Ruth and Hilary are both very accomplished pianists, as well as being very skilled on their particular instruments. For Bach's Flute Sonata in E flat Hilary provided the continuo on piano - not a real piano unfortunately, but a very good electric equivalent. Ruth played this sonata in its entirety with pianist James Keefe at Dawlish Festival on 5th July this year. At this Sunday's concert Ruth chose not to play either the first or last movements (allegro), but rather the slow and poignant middle Siciliana. The choice was perfect. Although sad, the Siciciana is very restful and complemented Hilary's gigue perfectly.

The Big Flute
Ruth plays the alto flute for some traditional carols
Throughout the concert, up to this point, another flute had been lying in readiness on the stage (see opening photo). The alto flute is noticeably bigger than the 'C' flute. When held side by side the alto is actually about four inches longer - and has a slightly larger bore. This allows the player to go down a few extra notes - to the G below middle C. However, as demonstrated in by Ruth in last Thursday's 'Rite of Spring' (q.v.), the difference in tone is very marked. The alto has a much mellower sound.

Despite the coldness of the evening - and the fact that the alto was stone cold to the touch - Ruth immediately elicited that gorgeous mellow tone. She played a sweet medley of carols which suited the instrument perfectly. 'I wander as I wander' was followed seemlessly by 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen', 'What Child Is This?' (i.e. 'Greensleeves') and finally 'Coventry Carol'. The mellifluous tone of the alto was extremely restful - a trip to a gentle beautiful world.

The Small Flute
Piccolo flute for 
'The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'
Going from one extreme to the other, Ruth took up her piccolo flute, a delightfully delicate little instrument. For a festive concert, celebrating Christmas, what could be better than Tchaikovsky's 'Nutcracker Suite'. The ballet is actually a terrifying fantasy about a child joining her toy nutcracker (in the form of a man, and grown to life-size) in a battle against the mouse king. However it also has a delightful 'Grand Divertissement', a series of seven beautiful dances which have become familiar and popular classics.

Any high pitched instrument, celeste, armonica - or piccolo flute, will always be associated with the most popular dance - 'The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'. Ruth's version was absolutely delightful and made everyone want to dance, including Ruth herself. Equally well known is 'The Dance of the Mirlitons', although 'mirlitons' are virtually unknown these days (some kind of Christmas vegetable treat!) The tune, however, is very familiar. Played on the 'C' flute is was a sublime treat for us all.

Now came the time for flute and 'cello to play together on equal terms. Instead of continuo, Hilary would be playing counterpoint alongside Ruth. Their next piece was from Rio de Janeiro in 1950. Heitor Villa-Lobos had a great love of the flute - and the 'cello. (His Bachianas Brazileiras was scored for flute and eight 'cellos.) At the age of 63 Villa-Lobos composed a perfect duet for flute and 'cello, 'Assobio a Játo' - 'The Jet Whistle'

The 'cello line is clearly a great composition in itself, and was beautifully played by Hilary. Ruth's flute had an equally engaging tune which cleverly and fiercely intruded into the 'cello line. Very exciting stuff. The second movement was incredibly slow and deliberate each breath and bow stroke starkly contrasted. The third movement, 'vivo', goes back to the wonderfully energetic counterpoint of 'breath and bow', all with the delicious flavour of classic Villa-Lobos and the folk music of Brazil.

Ruth finished the piece with her very special 'pièce de résistance'. A series of glissandi sweep up the full range of the flute, each ending on a higher note. How does she do it? You have to see for yourself! Hilary, meanwhile, keeps our attention on the 'cello with a series of powerful rasping notes. After the last startling glissando on the flute, Hilary is left to complete the story with a few perfect vibrato notes on the 'cello.

A Festive Trio - surprise guest Linda Byrt (oboe)
Another, now familiar, feature of Tasty Music concerts is the appearance of Hilary's 'surprise guests'. In November Alice Bell joined the 'Cello Chaconne' for a 'cello trio. This time Linda Byrt (baroque oboist with the 'Playford' ensemble) stepped up with her oboe to provide a very special festive trio. Even more contrast for another medley of seasonal music - the 'Sans Day Carol' ("The Holly Bears a Berry" - which is Cornish! originating in St Day in Cornwall) and 'Joy to the World' ('Antioch' from Handel's Messiah - who considered himself 'English'). Joining in at short notice, Linda played magnificently. What a splendid surprise.

The concert finished with Hilary on piano and Ruth playing flute in a tune written in 1944 by 'The Velvet Fog' - vocalist Mel Tormé, and pianist Bob Wells. Nat King Cole made this one a hit in 1946. Ruth and Hilary did likewise as they played this last tune perfectly. Gorgeous!

'Festive Flute'
Ruth Avis and Hilary Boxer
plus Linda Byrt - and an obliging oboe

Corn Barn Proprietor Yta Batchelor
a vote of thanks - and hope for more to come
Ruth and Hilary will repeat this concert with lunch at 12.30pm on Wednesday 7 December in the Bicton College Music Room. If you missed them at the Corn Barn it will be well worth the trip. The Bicton Concert includes an excellent lunch and wine - all for £10. Best to arrive at about noon!

Ruth is appearing with pianist Rebecca Willson (q.v.) in the second 'Nonclassical' concert in the Exeter Bikeshed Theatre at 7.30pm on Sunday 11 December. The first Nonclassical concert was sensational (q.v.) so this really will be something to hear!

Ruth Avis will be appearing on the 'Classical Journey' on Phonic FM at 10am on Tuesday 6 December to discuss their forthcoming concerts - and entertain us with live music!!!

Stay tuned!

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