The Sound of Alison Balsom (CD review)

Alison Balsom, trumpet; various conductors and ensembles. Warner Classics 50999 0 19162 2 5.

Now that Warner Classics have acquired the EMI catalogue, it appears one of the first things they’ve done is reissue some of EMI recording star Alison Balsom’s biggest hits in the elegantly packaged new release The Sound of Alison Balsom. It’s a retrospective of Ms. Balsom’s Baroque trumpet work from 2002 to 2012, accompanied by various individuals and ensembles, period and modern. Fans of Ms. Balsom will no doubt already have most of these recordings, but folks new to her playing may want to use the disc to catch up on what they’ve been missing.

For those few of you who may not know her, British trumpet soloist Alison Balsom has been playing trumpet professionally since 2001. She is now a multiple award winner with eight albums to her credit; she was the former principal trumpet of the London Chamber Orchestra; and she’s a Visiting Professor of Trumpet at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. What’s more important, she is a darn fine trumpet player. On the present record’s liner notes she credits legendary jazz great Dizzy Gillespie as her inspiration, so if you hear any signs of casual, easy, improvisational, modern-jazz inflections in her playing, well, you know where it probably came from.

The program here consists of short Baroque pieces from English composer Henry Purcell (1658-95), German organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Italian violinist and composer Giuseppe Torelli (1650-1708), German composer George Frideric Handel (1685–1759), Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750), and Italian composer Benedetto Marcello (1686–1739). Her accompanists include Quentin Thomas, organ; Colm Carey, organ; Alastair Ross, harpsichord; Lestyn Davies, countertenor; Edward Gardner and the Goteborg Symfoniker; Thomas Klug and Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen; Jonathan Morton and the Scottish Ensemble; and, most recently, Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert. Throughout the selections, Ms. Balsom demonstrates the smooth, fluent, mellifluous style that has made her famous.

Things begin with five tunes from Purcell's King Arthur, which come across with considerable pomp, vigor, and enthusiasm, Ms. Balsom's trumpet effortlessly pouring forth her usual golden notes in abundance. If that sounds like hyperbole, just give it a listen.

Next come several numbers from Bach: a Sarabande, an Aria, a Badinerie, and Andantes from various suites, plus the Concerto in D (after Vivaldi). The Sarabande and Badinerie are particularly interesting as they are unaccompanied solos yet sound like small ensembles unto themselves.

After the Bach comes Torelli's Trumpet Concerto in D, its three movements lively and enlivening yet most refined. Following that is a selection apiece from Handel's Giulio Cesare, Albinoni's Sonata da chiesa, transcribed by Ms. Balsom, and Marcello's Oboe Concerto in C minor. The program concludes with three more numbers from Handel: the overture from Atalanta, the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne, and the Amadigi di Gaula, arranged by Ms. Balsom. This is exquisite, well-chosen music, exquisitely well played.

The album provides a healthy seventy-seven minutes of playing time, nearly the limit for a compact disc, so you get more than your money's worth right there.

The folks at Warner Classics have done up the packaging most lavishly, enclosing the disc in its own sleeve within a hardcover book with a thirty-two page bound insert. The only minor snag was trying to get the disc out of its sleeve without leaving fingerprints on the playing surface. In any case, I wonder if the company is planning to do up all of its new releases so elaborately.

The sound, originally recorded by EMI in a number of different locations from 2002-2012, is uniformly good, if not always as absolutely transparent as some audiophiles might prefer. Still, it is nicely dynamic in all the selections, with in each case a pleasant, natural hall resonance to provide a realistic ambience. While the sound is a little one-dimensional much of the time, it also sounds well extended, which helps to make up for any slight deficiencies.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa