Emily Loftus and Stephen Rankin Lunchtime Concert:

Hosted at the temple Methodist church in the picturesque Budleigh Salterton, this concert comes at the halfway point of this year’s Budleigh Music Festival as part of their free lunchtime concerts. This concert featured the Soprano: Emily Loftus, and the flautist: Stephen Rankin. Both recent graduates from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Emily received a first-class degree and Stephen was presented with the “John McGregor prize for flute”.

Emily Loftus began her classical training at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music (2012-2014). At RCS she received training from Scott Johnson and Patricia MacMahon. Emily has performed many famous opera scenes by composers such as Mozart, Puccini and Verdi, she has also been fortunate enough to participate in the British Youth Opera Workshops in 2017.

Stephen Rankin, a concert flautist from Northern Ireland, has performed in many productions including the RCS Symphony and Concerto Orchestras as well as their production of ‘Die Fledermaus’. Stephen has had opportunities to participate in masterclasses with many world-renowned flautists including Sir James Galway.

With the luxury of the concert being free attendance with a retiring collection, the hall is packed with an audience which are ready for an enjoyable concert. Modern facilities enable the people at the back of the church to be able to see the concert projected onto screens around the building so they all have a clear sight of the performers. Maybe an added pressure on the performer?

With the programme not being given a strict title or theme, the performers were able to present a varied repertoire of music, taking the audience to many different countries including, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and back to England.

Starting the concert off was one of Delibes most loved songs “The Flower Duet” from his opera Lakemé. Arranged for flute and soprano the audience were treated to the beautiful sounds which can come from this duo of instruments. Tentative and sublime with both performers being sensitive to the other. It was also nice to hear the full version of this piece as it is easy to play the opening for the audience, as this is the most recognisable. The ending really showed off the control of the playing with the performers having to imitate and echo whilst being stationary on stage.

The concert moved to a selection of solos beginning with Coulter’s “Home away from Home” originally made famous by the flautist James Gallway. The piece harks back to some beautiful sounds of Irish folk melody with the flute giving a tone similar to a pan pipe. Credit goes to Stephen for playing without music, something which isn’t praised enough these days.

Emily then took the audience through two of Brahms’s Gasange Op. 70. It was clear from the first note she has real stage presence and is able to command a room, even though she was singing in a different language without any translation from the audience. The clarity of text when singing is something to be commended and it was evident she had a clear understanding of the words and the storyline.

Stephen then dazzled the audience with his virtuosic skill in Chaminade’s Concertino for Flute. We see the true skill of controlled flute playing in this piece not to mention the crisp clarity of articulation. A cadenza in any piece is always the performer’s chance to really show off to the audience, here was no exception. Taking time and space Stephen was able to navigate carefully through this passage whilst giving flare to his playing.

A change in mood now whilst the audience were then taken through the humorous story of Rossinis “La Regate Veneziana”. This piece really showed off Emily’s talent for opera, she was able to take the audience on a journey through the movement and facial expressions she had to offer. Her interpretation was true to the original score whilst giving a bit of extra spice when it was needed. It was a shame that the accompanist wasn’t as tentative in this section as some of the vocal line was overtaken, however, the pianist should be commended as he stepped in last minute due to the original repiture being ‘indisposed’.

Ian Clarks “Deep Blue” gave a fresh contemporary take on what can be achieved with a solo flute and piano. Playing around with extended techniques Stephen was able to isolate note bends masterfully giving the piece a true songful quality, emulating the sounds of the shakuhachi flute. It was nice to see the audience introduced to contemporary music which is more assessable to them.

The last two pieces rounded the concert off nicely with Emily presenting a short and sweet song “Love, live Forever” by Lehar, and the duo reuniting at the end for Benedict’s “The Gypsy and the Bird”, a light-hearted and comedic song which left the audience on a high. With a standing ovation from the audience it was clear to see this concert was well received with a well-thought-out and varied programme.

It was clear from the first piece the class of performer the audience were to be treated with today, but also the level of musical sensitivity they both posses with each other. When playing duets their level of understanding to each other is something which really is amazing and later I was informed that they are actually a couple, which could explain a lot. Regardless, their level of musicianship and quality of playing will take them far and I look forward to seeing how their careers pan out.