"It's a funny journey from the beginning," says Alison Balsom about her latest recording, "starting with Mozart going right through to the Piazzolla at the end of the disc. It was an organic process just choosing pieces that I liked and that I thought I could make work."
Balsom's CD "Caprice" is filled with new transcriptions for the trumpet. With this recording she wants to turn more people on to her instrument. By opening the disc with Mozart's familiar "Rondo alla Turca," she aims to lure listeners into the rest of the recording where they may discover something new. One thing we discover right away is that the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and conductor Edward Gardner know precisely how to complement Balsom; they provide excellent balance and fine musicianship.
Balsom is a British trumpeter who's been playing since she was eight years old. Twenty years later, she's still in love with the instrument and her goal is to showcase its broad array of colors.
"People think of the trumpet in very specific ways; it can be very stereotyped," Balsom says. "People think of it as heroic and brilliant, and it does fanfares or is military. But the trumpet has another side to it. It can be very refined and elegant, a very subtle instrument."
Balsom's warm, rich tone helps to accentuate the softer, more mysterious side of the trumpet. The transcription of an old pastoral hymn by Swedish composer Oskar Lindberg is a good example. This hymn was composed for organ in 1936. In this arrangement, Balsom glides effortlessly through each phrase, really capturing the hymn's sense of yearning.
“People think of the trumpet in very specific ways; it can be very stereotyped. It does fanfares or is military, but it can be very refined and elegant, a very subtle instrument.”Alison Balsom
Jean-Baptiste Arban was a French composer who wrote extremely accomplished pieces for a close relative of the trumpet that was popular in the 19th century, the cornet. Balsom chose his set of variations on the aria "Casta Diva" from Bellini's opera "Norma" as yet another way to demonstrate the flexibility of the trumpet.
"I thought this would be an interesting choice for this disc because it's a tongue-in-cheek, opera-diva-meets-brass-band, virtuoso sort of piece," she explains.
Balsom switches through these various gears with ease, making it as much fun for us to listen to as it is for her to play this campy arrangement.
When Balsom first considered transcribing Paganini's Caprice No. 24, she wasn't sure if this violin piece would translate well on the trumpet. It's one of the most technically demanding and musically memorable showpieces ever written. But Balsom was looking for a challenge and that's precisely what she got when she created this new virtuoso arrangement for trumpet. Two minutes into the Caprice we can hear how far she has to stretch to meet the challenge. While playing staccato lower notes, Balsom simultaneously winds her way through the upper melody, making it sound as if she's added a trumpet-playing twin.
"Just touching people's emotions is, I think, the most important thing for a musician to aspire to," Balsom says.
That's what she tries to do all the time. On this recording, Alison Balsom accomplishes her goal. Her playing is so heartfelt and elegant that my emotions turn positive; I feel energized. At the same time she convinces us that the trumpet is a versatile instrument capable of emanating a spectrum of colors and moods. In her hands, the trumpet is allowed to show its true colors, whether they be bold and heroic or soft and refined.