Branscombe Festival in a class of its own

Leo Green at the second Branscombe Festival

Leo Green at the second Branscombe Festival - Credit: Archant

LAST year’s inaugural Branscombe Festival set high standards, writes Paul Strange.

Offering world-class operatic, classical and jazz performances in humble venues amid one of East Devon’s most beautiful villages, it was always going to be a hard act to follow.

But undaunted, philanthropist Ian Rosenblatt, pianist Iain Burnside and BBC Radio 3 broadcaster Petroc Trelawny teamed up again to present a second festival, this time fundraising for the RNLI and local causes.

Spread over three days and blessed with fine weather, the 2014 festival followed last year’s pattern, but with tweaks to improve the programme.

Saturday was the festival’s most ambitious day with four concerts offering musical diversity at every turn.

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The lunchtime recital saw cellist Philip Higham making a welcome return to St Winifred’s Church.

Confirming his position as one of the UK’s most accomplished young cellists, Higham gave a dramatic, eloquent rendition of Bach’s Cello Suite No.2 in D minor, followed by a stunning performance of his Cello Suite No.6 in D.

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Attention then switched to the village hall for the rest of the day’s events, starting with the afternoon concert. A much-needed addition to the festival, this year’s concert marked the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Albert Ball’s Flying Aces – with guest vocalist Canadian mezzo-soprano Patricia Hammond – performed popular music from the early 20th century.

Tackling a range of rags, ballads and standards, the band, featuring Nicholas Ball on novelty percussion, were cracking.

Highlights included The Honeysuckle and the Bee, The Ragtime Drummer and a singalong If I Were The Only Girl In The World.

Amid the clinking of cream teas and with some enthusiastic waltzing from the audience, the show was highly enjoyable, adding fun and a lightness of touch to the festival programme.

The evening gala opera recital saw an impressive lineup of Irish soprano Ailish Tynan, Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes and pianist Iain Burnside performing a programme of songs and operatic excerpts.

There were some powerful moments, especially when Tynan and Gomes duetted on Va, je t’ai pardonné from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Standout individual performances included Gomes’ macho rendition of Cinco Canciones Populares Argentinas by Argentinian composer Ginastera, and Tynan’s soulful interpretation of Richard Strauss’s Morgen.

And the rousing finale – the much-loved climax of Act I of Puccini’s La Bohème – lifted the roof, bringing ecstatic applause from an enthralled audience.

The Leo Green Experience rounded off the day’s proceedings.

The band, led by boisterous and talented saxophonist Leo Green, tore into a wide repertoire of jazz, soul and rock ‘n’ roll, including storming versions of Aretha Franklin’s Don’t Play That Song For Me and (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66. The PA system was far too loud for the venue, but – that criticism aside – the band couldn’t be faulted.

On this showing, the Branscombe Festival could easily become an annual event. Let’s hope so.

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