Alison Balsom must be a concert promoter’s dream: she is young,
beautiful and very talented. This is her fourth CD for EMI, and
the first to concentrate on concertos. The earlier discs were
predominantly transcriptions and miniatures - see Christopher
of her Debut album EMI 5756832. Now with the two staples of the
repertoire – Haydn and Hummel – she has demonstrated the desire
to be taken seriously.
Let me get the
only two negatives out of the road first: the programme is somewhat
unbalanced, presenting as it does, the two “big” concertos first,
and secondly, it is a rather miserly running time. Yes, there
aren’t that many trumpet concertos, but sub-hour CDs these days
are really not acceptable, not matter how well played.
Be in no doubt:
this is very, very well played. Balsom’s tone is silky smooth,
yet bell-like in its clarity. There is no harshness at all
in her playing, even in phrases of extreme difficulty. I have
seen the adjective “poetic” applied to this recording in another
review – I couldn’t agree more. Her playing brought to mind
the great Maurice André in its sheer musicality.
Lest you start
to think that this is all honeyed and amorphous, please don’t
– there is great verve and spirit in the faster movements; the
opening of the final movement of the Hummel bears witness to
this. The solo part in the Torelli rings out bright and clear,
and even the relatively mundane Neruda sounds as good as it
probably ever will on record. I heard this in concert in the
gardens of the palace of Würzburg and
even those extraordinarily grand surroundings could only elevate
it to the ranks of pleasant!
for many years for the Haydn and Hummel has been Håkan Hardenberger
with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy on Philips 4202032:
a superior coupling of concertos by Johann Hertel and Johann
Stamitz. Listening to the two led me to the conclusion that
Hardenberger’s athleticism was trumped by Balsom’s musicality
– I wanted to listen to the latter again straight away.
I also found
in the process of writing this review that Norway has its own Alison Balsom: her name is Tine Thing Helseth,
and she too is beautiful, young and blonde. Earlier in 2008,
she also released a CD which has the Haydn, Hummel and Neruda
concertos (Simax PSC1292) – instead of the Torelli is a transcription
of an Albinoni oboe concerto. However, comparisons with Balsom
vanished as soon as the music began - I listened to it via my
Naxos Music Library subscription. Helseth is colourless and
uninspiring, and totally overshadowed by Balsom.
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
are equal partners in this endeavour: they are fleet, crisp
and totally attuned to Balsom’s playing. I would love to hear
them by themselves in Mozart and Haydn symphonies. They are
far superior to the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra who play quite
limply, and much better recorded than the ASMF who sound like
they are in the next building.
is an OpenDisc recording, which is a rather underwhelming feature:
it allows you access to “exclusive” promotional on the EMI website
when you put the disc in your computer. There are a few videos
promoting new EMI & Virgin releases, curiously none of them
with Alison Balsom. There is, however, a seven minute EMI promo
video on YouTube
if you would like to hear her talk about the Haydn, and see her
play at the recording session.
see that ArkivMusic have included this CD in their top recordings
for 2008. I can’t disagree: it will be in my Recordings of the
Year for 2009. I won’t discard the Hardenberger because of the
couplings, but Alison Balsom is tops in Haydn and Hummel.