Alison Balsom – “Seraph” – Modern Concertos for Trumpet and Orch. by MacMILLAN, TAKEMITSU, ARUTUIAN & ZIMMERMAN – BBC Sym./ Renes – EMI

by | Feb 27, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

Alison Balsom – “Seraph” – Modern Concertos for Trumpet and Orchestra. MacMILLAN: Seraph for trumpet and string orchestra; TAKEMITSU: Paths; ARUTUNIAN: Trumpet Concerto in A flat; BALSOM (arr.): Nobody knows de trouble I see;  ZIMMERMAN: Trumpet Concerto – Alison Balsom, trumpet and accompaniments /Scottish Ensemble/ BBC Sym. Orch. /Renes – EMI  50999 6 78590 2 3,  56:04 *****:
The young British trumpet player Alison Balsom plays these ‘modern’ concertos with a sensuously rich tone that almost redefines her instrument.  In a recent Grammophone magazine article, Balsom explained, “You have to look like you’re gliding along the surface effortlessly while underneath there’s all this frantic paddling going on.” Her playing is smooth as silk, even when the music is complex. This is a gorgeous disc that showcases a rising star in repertoire that should be more familiar to classical music lovers.
Three trumpet concertos are separated (she calls them palette cleansers) by two shorter solo works. Zimmerman’s Trumpet concertoSeraph” (Celestial) is angular, jazzy and centered by a languid adagio that wanders etherally in the clouds. It begins with a few bars that remind me of the opening theme Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto and ends abruptly with an inspirational meditation that trails into the mist. This work could become very popular with symphony audiences, and Balsom plays it beautifully.
Takemitsu’s Paths (1994) for solo trumpet alternates sections played with a Harmon mute with Balsom’s clear, rounded sound, providing a stimulating trip through a proverbial Japanese garden. Arutunian’s vibrant, romantic Trumpet Concerto (1950) deserves its classic status in the trumpet concerto repertoire. It’s filled with Armenian folk tunes, and virtuoso turns for orchestra and trumpet. Balsom’s hushed, sustained legato in the gorgeous slow movement is a joy to hear.
Nobody knows de trouble I see is Balsom’s solo arrangement of the black American spiritual that she plays accompanied by different pre-recorded tracks laid over each other that she performed herself. It’s very reminiscent of Ives’ Unanswered Question, full of mystery and warmth. Zimmerman’s Trumpet Concerto (1954) uses the same spiritual but integrates it with jazzy techniques, using big band brass and even a Hammond organ. There are moments that remind me of the gang fights in Bernstein’s West Side Story. It’s funky, hip, sexy, and reflectively plaintive at its conclusion.
Balsom’s seductive sound is recorded in an almost romantic ambience, without sacrificing the orchestral clarity these works demand. This is a great introduction to contemporary trumpet works and mandatory listening for those who love the trumpet.
—Robert Moon

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