Friday, February 10, 2012

Trumpet glory from Alison Balsom

From Trumpet glory from Alison Balsom
“Seraph” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “burning,” and Isaac Asimov, the genial American polymath of the late 20th century, suggested that “the burning ones” might be a good translation of “seraphim” — burning with their love of God, making their spectacular debut in the Book of Isaiah and later assigned the top position among the nine orders of angels.

James MacMillan, one of the few confessedly Christian composers of major reputation today, wrote “Seraph” for Alison Balsom, and it is the title piece of her new recording on EMI Classics. The seraphic burning manifests itself in different intensities throughout the 15-minute piece, played with keen understanding and tenderness by Balsom, with Jonathan Morton as leader of the accompanying string orchestra, the Scottish Ensemble. The primary characteristic is a glowing tone, which Balsom shows consistent mastery of.

Her mastery of programming is remarkable as well. These 20th and 21st century works reflect a great wealth of personal styles. I like her deft touch in putting a straight-up arrangement of “Nobody Knows,” the black spiritual, just before Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s haunting trumpet concerto, “Nobody knows de trouble I see,” a post-war cry to consider the value of all humanity across every racial and religious barrier. There’s nothing sentimental about the appeal the doomed Zimmermann makes in this composition, however. It’s in part an oblique but unmistakable tribute to a wide spectrum of black American music and its message of universal liberation from war and oppression.

Also making a strong impression is Alexander Arutiunian’s populist warhorse, a somewhat conventional three movement Trumpet Concerto of virtuosic reach, and — at the other end of the display and exroversion spectrum, Toru Takemitsu’s unaccompanied trumpet solo, “Paths.”

If the name seems familiar to readers of this blog, Balsom soloed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in October 2008, playing concertos by Albinoni and Haydn.

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