Stand-out performances at Branscombe Festival 2013

Saturday 27 July 2013: International opera stars Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, accompanied by Ia

Saturday 27 July 2013: International opera stars Ailyn Pérez and Stephen Costello, accompanied by Iain Burnside, perform at the inaugural Branscombe Festival - Credit: Archant

Review: recital by cellist Philip Higham; recital by soprano Ailyn Perez and tenor Stephen Costello; gig by the Leo Green Experience

A MAGICAL atmosphere lingered delightfully over the village of Branscombe last weekend as the inaugural Branscombe Festival blossomed into glorious full flower.

The magic was particularly palpable in the intimate setting of St Winifred’s Church at lunchtime on Saturday, where Philip Higham, one of the UK’s most gifted young cellists, gave a mesmeric performance of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 to a capacity audience.

Introduced by BBC Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny, Bach’s carefully structured suite has an occasional improvisational feel, and Higham revelled in this, driving headlong down lengthy avenues of cold, bleak beauty hedged with passionate, pastoral undertones.

Throughout the performance, he demonstrated his mastery of the instrument, exhibiting exquisite control, great dynamic range and extraordinary dexterity. One of the Festival’s great moments, his recital brought rapturous, sustained and well-deserved applause.

This set the bar high for the evening performance at Branscombe Village Hall, given by soprano Ailyn Pérez and her husband, tenor Stephen Costello.

Accompanied by renowned British pianist Iain Burnside, opera’s American “power couple” rose magnificently to the occasion, with a varied repertoire of songs, arias and duets from operas.

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More accustomed to the large stages and huge audiences at Glyndebourne and the New York Met, both singers delighted in the intimate setting. They darted in and out of the audience, thrilling them with their powerful and evocative singing.

Among the numerous highlights were two blistering duets from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Pérez supplied a moving sequence of Spanish songs, while Costello provided an amusing take on Tosti’s ‘Non ti’amo più’ and ‘Good-Bye!’ and a passionate rendition of extracts from Act 1 of Puccini’s La Boheme . A refreshing encore of the Cherry Duet from Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz brought the stand-out performance to a close.

To round things off – and showing the Festival’s full range – there was some sterling, high-quality jazz, soul and blues from the Leo Green Experience.

The son of revered jazzman Benny Green, alto saxophonist Leo – who’s performed with Van Morrison, and Jerry Lee Lewis – brought the crowd to its feet with superb versions of popular numbers such as My Baby Just Cares For Me, All Of Me and Moondance.

Although Leo was clearly the star, he didn’t hog the limelight, allowing the talented members of his tight band to shine through on many occasions. A joyous performance, it brought the second day of Branscombe Festival to a fitting close.

It’s hard to describe the high quality of all of Saturday’s performances. It was, as one local confided to another at the end of the evening recital, “all rather different for Branscombe!”