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BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

Music for Trumpet and Organ
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (arr. Thomas/Balsom) (1562-1621) Variations on "Mein junges Leben hat ein End"
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Allemande from Partita II, BWV 1004
Henry PURCELL (1659-95) Musike from "King Arthur"
Traditional (arr. Thomas) Shenandoah
George THALBEN-BALL (1896-1987) Elegy
Henri TOMASI (1901-71) Semaine Sainte a Cuzco (1960)
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-92) Vocalise-Etude, pour voix élevées
Petr EBEN (1929-) Windows, after Marc Chagall (1980)
Alison Balsom (trumpet) Quentin Thomas (organ)
Recorded at Paisley Abbey, Scotland, June 2002 DDD
EMI CLASSICS "DEBUT" 7243 5 75683 2 6
[57:46]

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The EMI Debut series has now been successful in drawing a number of exceptionally promising young artists to public attention, amongst them Thomas Adès and, more recently (and currently particularly newsworthy) the bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu, hailed by some as the next Bryn Terfel and having just picked up a Gramophone award for best debut disc.

Anyone who happened to be listening to the Prom on the 19th August with the Australian Chamber Orchestra will already have heard Alison Balsom in Shostakovitch’s Piano Concerto in C minor, partnering Olli Mustonen and those with a particularly good memory may recall her winning the brass final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 1998. Indeed for a young brass player her pedigree already speaks for itself having appeared as soloist with the Philharmonia, Bournemouth and Ulster Orchestras as well as playing with the LSO and LPO amongst others.

Balsom explains in her booklet note that EMI gave her considerable freedom in choosing her programme for the disc and thereby lays my only real reservation. The objective (a daunting one as Balsom readily admits) was to seek out new material although what we get is a slightly uncomfortable blend of one vast original composition in the Eben, that whilst well coupled with the shorter Tomasi work seems rather ill at ease with the likes of Shenandoah and George Thalben-Ball’s well-known organ Elegy. It may be that Balsom was conscious of not duplicating works with Håkan Hardenberger’s release of music for the same combination that appeared on BIS earlier this year (also reviewed by the writer) although in fact it is only the Tomasi that is common to both discs.

It is Eben’s Windows that is the undoubted highlight of the disc, a weighty, dramatic tableaux in four substantial movements inspired by Chagall’s twelve stained glass windows at the Hadassah Medical Centre in Jerusalem (The same windows that in 1974, also inspired John McCabe’s orchestral piece Chagall Windows). Balsom mentions the unforgettable experience of recording the work at midnight in Paisley Cathedral. The silence and grandeur of the surroundings must have made an impression for this is an evocative performance of a characteristically deeply felt work. Anyone familiar with Eben’s music will know his brilliance as a composer for organ and the writing for the instrument here is every bit as demanding as the trumpet part, both Balsom and the young organist Quentin Thomas acquitting themselves with considerable aplomb.

In the Tomasi, Balsom may not quite have the spectacular security in the highest register of the piccolo trumpet that Hardenberger possesses but gives a slightly less hard-edged performance, with beautifully lyrical playing in the tranquil central section. Indeed it is Balsom’s lyrical playing that in many ways impresses most, a combination of her superb clarity of both tone and articulation, producing a seamless legato sound that truly shines in the Sweelinck, the most effective of the arrangements of early music on the disc. Whilst the Bach violin Partita is a fine vehicle for her virtuosity the genius of the original writing is such that any arrangement will always leave me slightly cold. The playing is, nonetheless, sympathetic.

Alison Balsom is a player we are likely to hear considerably more from in the coming years and this debut disc will do much to galvanise her already growing reputation.

Christopher Thomas


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