Monday, 20 August 2012

Ruth Molins and James Keefe - back together again: St Stephen's Church Thursday 16 August 2012

Pianist James Keefe & Flautist Ruth Molins
a very enthusiastic duo

After Ten years of hard work, the St Stephen's Project has achieved its primary aim. At a cost of £1.5 million, the Church of St Stephen in Exeter High Street has not only been saved from dilapidation and ruin - but has been redecorated inside and out to make it a thing of beauty.

The lunchtime concerts at St Stephen's, an important part of the fund-raising effort for all those years, continue - raising more money and support for the continued maintenance of this historic building. There is no charge to attend, but the generous donations from audience members are always welcome. Also a simple, but satisfying, lunch is provided before each concert - providing a little extra profit.

Since the the church reopened, on Thursday 19th July, there have been two concerts already. On 2nd August the wonderful mezzo soprano Rebecca Smith gave a recital accompanied on the piano by her father Ron Smith - former Head of Music at QE school in Crediton. On 9th August Hilary Boxer's 'cello student Michael Dawson was there with his 'cello to give a recital accompanied by Andrew Daldorph. Michael is also well known for his Tenor singing and for playing the piano and organ himself. His 'cello playing is especially popular.

For the third concert (Wednesday 15th August) a very popular partnership were reunited - pianist James Keefe and flautist Ruth Molins.

James Keefe
chats with audience members
before the concert
Ruth Molins
the co-star arrives
right on cue

Back in 2010 James and Ruth (then known by her maiden name of Ruth Avis) delighted an audience in the Exeter Central Library Music Room with 'Songs for Flute and Piano' - Copland, Barber, Poulenc - and the exquisite 'Orange Dawn' by Ian Clarke (not related to our local pianist Joyce Clarke but, incredibly, Joyce and Ian worked together on the premiere).

Now James and Ruth were back with a new repertoire - some very exciting music.


'Out of the Cool'
Dave Heath 1979

and grace


After the initial announcements, Ruth did all the talking. Her first choice was 'Out of the Cool by Dave Heath. Heath composed the piece soon after he graduated at the age of 21 - at the request of flautist Richard Blake. The first performance was at the Cookham Music Festival (Berkshire) in 1979. Although carefully notated in classical style, the piece plays, as intended, like a jazz improvisation.

James played with delicate control providing a gentle undercurrent to Ruth's dancing melodies. Occasionally the flute led us gently into a passage for piano alone - when we could appreciate James' economic style to the full.

perfect posture
perfect embouchure

Despite all the work put into the building, there was clearly something still not right with the electrics. As Ruth and James played the lights first went out one by one, they came on together - as if someone were trying to distract the players. The duo, however, did not turn a hair, but carried on playing as if oblivious to all distractions.

From modern we moved swiftly to baroque and the music of J S Bach. In the B minor Sonata James' touch was supremely delicate, with nothing forced. Ruth was poised and confident. Each concentrated on an apparently independent tune - combining in perfect counterpoint. Ruth's short isolated phrases integrated perfectly into James's continuous melody. There was a fascinating echo of Michael Colquhoun's 'Framing the Silence', which Ruth played at 'Nonclassical' night on 11th December last year. Instead of silence, the flute now framed a piano melody, in an endless stream of polished perfection.

The Largo e Dolce really was 'dolce'. James remained impressively composed while Ruth enraptured the audience right up the the tender last note. A slight crisis with the manuscript pages delayed the final movement - and allowed Ruth a to take a break for a much needed drink of water. The final movement was just as advertised. Presto. James calmly moved up a gear while Ruth became increasingly animated. As the speed increased, so did the passion. A wonderfully moving conclusion.

passion and movement
Finally we heard Philippe Gaubert's 'Sonate', the first piece that Ruth really fell in love with - at the age of fifteen. Now, a few years later, Ruth gives her debut public performance.

James' piano part rippled like Ravel's 'Ondine' while Ruth's flute carried on an independent conversation against the piano background. Occasionally James would have a little 'chat' of his own on the piano keyboard. As the pace picked up, Ruth performed amazing runs up and down the scale on the flute - almost the 'glissandi' of Heitor Villa Lobos' 'Assobio a Játo' (Jet Whistle) which we heard Ruth play on Tuesday's programme. Unexpectedly, the very delicate end to the opening 'modéré' came not on the flute - but the piano.

The following 'lento' was a gentle heartbeat on the piano, and a delicate sound like falling leaves on the flute - which drops out completely from time to time. As James slowed and increased the intensity on the piano, Ruth prepared to re-enter the piece. A painful, but beautiful process to watch - and to hear.

The 'allegro moderato' was initially relaxed, but built up to a piano cadenza, matched by Ruth's flute as the piano line dissolved back into those delicious ripples. a wonderfully harmonious finish.

The Reverend Sheila Swarbrick
Sheila Swarbrick of the Central Exeter Parish Team Ministry was quick to take the stage and express the thanks of everyone for a wondeful concert.

Sheila reminded us also of the contribution that Ruth and James have made in the past, with other concerts in aid of the St Stephen's Project.

The audience concurred with Sheila's sentiments - especially about the incredibly high standard of music we had just heard.

Ruth and James are both professional musicians - Ruth with at least two local orchestras, while James is principal keyboard player with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. We are all extremely grateful to them both for giving up their time to entertain us - and charge nothing for admission. Heartfelt thanks.

Deepest gratitude to James Keefe of the
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
for coming to entertain us in Exeter
and his talented music partner
Ruth Molins
Piano and flute in perfect harmony

A very interested audience member
Jazz guitarist Jesse Molins
- Ruth's husband of course
(Watch this space for news of where
Jesse will be playing in the near future)

Dr Matthew Wright
One more concert remains in the series - another pianist, this time playing solo. Dr Matthew Wright Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at Exeter University has just returned from a year as the specially invited 'Blegen Fellow' at Vassar University in Poughkeepsie NY.

We have missed his piano recitals and comic songs - not to mention his 'musical chairs' with Tony Yates at the console of the St Margarets organ in Topsham on Sundays.

We are all very interested to hear what he has in store for us this Wednesday. Don't forget - charity lunch at 12 noon, just £5, followed by a free recital at 1pm. Donate what you feel appropriate at the end. The venue in St Stephen's Church, Exeter High Street.

(photo: Chris Avis)

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