Alison Balsom's Italian Concertos

Saturday, November 06, 2010

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.

Alison Balsom
Italian Concertos
Scottish Ensemble


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Comments [18]

ajhbmb from USA

What is the surprise? That a female is playing the trumpet so well? Great good wishes to her with her imagination, determination and obvious talent. The quartet recognized the star in their midst and supported her admirably. Waiting for many more such collaborations and a live performance - NYC.

Dec. 20 2010 09:54 PM
Robert Getz from Newaygo, Micigan


Much of what has long been passed off as baroque brass music was no such thing.

It is moot anyway, as music is music, and Bach and all the others routinely transcribed their own music.

If music becomes more about the trumpet or violin than about itself it diminssshes. As long as the performer and instrument serve the music/composer and not the other way round it is fine.

She is a lovely lady who plays equally well.

God bless you!
Bob Getz

Dec. 09 2010 12:02 PM

Alison's new recording is a stupendous
job! I think it is perfectly acceptable to perform transcrptions of other works, escpecially when they as beautifully performed as on the present disc. And not to take away from Alison's acheivement, but other famous trumpeters of the past have done transcription albums, most notably Maurice Andre. So why not encourage an endeavor such as this which sheds new light on familiar music.
I am an classical organist who plays transcriptions all the time so I can say the above with some experience. Again, con-
grats to Alison for a superb recording -
keep them coming!

Nov. 14 2010 09:38 PM
Walter Schaller from Livingston, NJ

These transcriptions, Allison and her playing
are all simply brilliant !

Nov. 14 2010 12:11 PM
Ray Russolillo from Long Island, NY

Thank you to WQXR for featuring this artist and her music. Absolutely beautiful!

Nov. 10 2010 11:19 PM
Frank Fezishin from NYC

She is one of the best !(if not the best!)
Musical to the highest degree.
Its a pleasure to listen to her playing !

Nov. 10 2010 05:53 PM
Richard L Dunklee from Laurel Springs, NJ

Let me correct my previous post.
The question was asked about other female trumpet recording artists. I have Alison's Haydn/Hummel Trumpet Concerto album but I also have Bibi Black's Trumpet Concertos album. I love the trumpet. I never got to advance in my trumpet lessons because I had to get braces, back in around 1964, after a year of training, not my idea!

Nov. 09 2010 02:20 PM
David Cowlishaw from Newark. Notts UK

I first heard Alison Balsom play Vivaldi on a piccolo trumpet at the 'Classical Brits' and the brilliance stood out. Since then 'Caprice' and 'works for trumpet have equally given me that all important shiver accompanies real talent. I shall be buying 'Italian Concertos' ASAP
David Cowlishaw.

Nov. 09 2010 02:03 PM
Richard L Dunklee from Laurel Springs, NJ

The question was asked about other female trumpet recording artests. I Alison's Haydn/Hummel Trupet Concerto album but I also have Bibi Black's Trumpet Concertos album. I love the trunpet. I never got to advance in my trumpet lessons because I had to get braces, back in around 1964, after a year of training.

Nov. 09 2010 01:59 PM
Antonio Hernandez

Music is a live language. Every transcription is an impulse to keep the music alive offering the chance to great musicians like Mrs. Balsom to read and know a composition on the other way or mean that the composer did it. That is great!

Nov. 09 2010 09:57 AM
Mirella Sanseviero from Long Island NY>

Molto, molto brava!

Nov. 08 2010 05:13 PM
AL from Rockaway NJ

Should there be recordings of transcriptions like she plays?
Absolutely yes, if you can play them as beautifully as she does. I guess it is just by chance that in
the BBC Music magazine that I received a few days ago, the CD that came with it is of Alison Balsom playing trumpet.

Nov. 08 2010 03:55 PM
protromba from Southern CT

violinhunter, I hope you're referring to the first violinist's overly casual dress in the video. I think Ms. Balsom looks pretty stylish. Dress aside, I enjoy everything I've heard her play.

Nov. 08 2010 01:59 PM
John Feaver from Oakhurst, NJ

All in favor of transcriptions...Alison does a great job of bringing new colors to these pieces.

Nov. 08 2010 01:56 PM
Michael Meltzer

Listening to her Albinoni, she is very careful to give the strings their breathing room. The baroque idiom is one of interplay and the trumpet can easily overpower.
She has skillfully avoided doing what Maurice Andre did to the Bach Suite #2 in B-minor: he blew away the strings and turned it into a melody + accompaniment.
I'm sure there are buyers for that kind of thing, but it is a distortion.

Nov. 08 2010 11:50 AM
peter rosenstein from new york city

I always wondered why there were so few trumpet concertos in the schedules for the NY Philharmonic and other major orchestras. I feel that incorporating more trumpet music or even transcribing more music featuring trumpet and other brass instruments would be a welcome change to offer the patrons.

Nov. 08 2010 11:18 AM

I played most of this stuff as a child. Why would transcriptions for any instrument not be acceptable? As far as I'm concerned, Alison does a good job with them and it is a high quality recording too. Bravo. In the end, it's a question of taste. (However, I never dress so casually when I record. Comfortable, yes, but not sloppy.)

Nov. 08 2010 10:56 AM
Michael Meltzer

Subject to good judgment in the transcriber, absolutely yes.
First, since the trumpet was only played by those with a royal dispensation, early composers were not likely to write for trumpet solo unless they had a commission, and as pointed out, it was valveless and limited. If they conceived a solo work they wished to develop, they would do it for it for an accessible and versatile instrument, like the violin.
Music of that period was usually what we call abstract, in that it was witten more to the demands of the rules of counterpoint and good voice leading, and to harmonic practice as it was emerging, rather than to the concrete sonorities of particular instruments (there are exceptions, that's where good judgment comes in).
Bach in particular transcribed and cross-pollinated many of his own works often enough to indicate that if he were alive today, he would probably be more often flattered than offended.
Finally, modern technical innovation has given the brass instruments the musical flexibility that would have invited a larger repertoire 300 years ago. It's a shame to deprive today's brass students and players of centuries of beautiful music. It's generally agreed that renaissance madrigals, for instance, frequently transcribed for brass quintet, lose none of their early flavor.

Nov. 08 2010 12:56 AM

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