Brass players have long had a reputation as beer-swilling, raucous good old boys that give the back row of the symphony orchestra an air of a locker room. That is slowly changing, but even so, the young English trumpeter Alison Balsom remains a singular figure.
It’s not just that she’s blonde, slim and stylish; it’s the depth of her musicianship that makes her stand out along with the ability to make the solo trumpet seem as natural as a solo violin or cello. Those qualities emerge on Balsom’s new album, Italian Concertos, which focuses on concertos originally composed for violin or oboe by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Tartini, Cimarosa and Marcello.
Of course, the trumpet was a staple of the Baroque era, but it was a radically different instrument back then. The sound that you hear in Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto is that of a natural trumpet, with its lack of valves, and therefore limited range of keys. Here Balsom uses the full chromatic range of a modern instrument to often spectacular effect.
In the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor, which Balsom transcribed herself, her bright tone, crisp articulation and tasteful trills make you forget it was originally composed for violin. The same is true for the Tartini Concerto in D, whose bravura, fanfare-like octave leaps seem custom-made for the trumpet. Balsom's transcription of the Albinoni Violin Sonata Da Chiesa in D minor shows her ability to navigate both quicksilver passages and supple legato playing in close succession. Marcello’s lyrical Oboe Concerto in C, as with the other works originally for oboe, has a particular sense of poise, perhaps because there are already built-in places to breathe.
Balsom has enjoyed a good deal of media attention in the U.K. and had some breakout success last year when she performed in the Last Night of the Proms before an international BBC television audience of 200 million. While still a relative newcomer to the American listeners, this album provides a fine calling card.
Tell us what you think. Should music for Baroque violin and oboe be played on a modern trumpet? Watch this video and leave your comments below.