balsom haydn concerto warner

Déjà Review: this review was first published in January 2009 and the recording is still available.

Alison Balsom (trumpet)
Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837)
Trumpet concerto in E flat major (1803)
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Trumpet concerto in E flat major (1796)
Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709)
Trumpet concerto in D major
Jan Křtitel Jiři Neruda (1711-1776)
Trumpet concerto in E flat major (ca 1760s)
Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
rec. 2008, Evangelish-Lutherische Kirche, Lunsen, Germany
Originally released on EMI
Warner Classics 2162130 [53]

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 Thomas’s review 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! 

My standard 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 totally overshadowed by Balsom. 

The conductor-less 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. 

There is a seven minute EMI promo video on YouTube if you would like to hear Balsom talk about the Haydn, and see her play at the recording session. 

I 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. 

David Barker 

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