Monday, October 29, 2007

Alison Balsom--Caprice (2006)

Artist-Alison Balsom
Release Date-2006
Genre/Style-New Age/Instrument

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Review-It is only natural that players of instruments with a limited repertoire should resort to transcriptions, citing a long line of arrangers from Bach to Liszt to Heifetz. However, the suitability of the material is as important as the skill of the transcriber, and you don't have to be a "purist" to object to some of Balsom's choices. Some of the transcriptions are her own, some are by Julian Milone, a violinist, who also provided the orchestrations of the non-orchestral accompaniments. Unfortunately they sound unnatural compared to Mozart's, in an aria from his Die Zauberflöte, and Bach's, in a movement of his A minor Violin Concerto. Two numbers are for trumpet alone: Paganini's 24th Caprice for violin, which keeps jumping from the highest to the lowest register, bringing out the worst of both, and Debussy's "Syrinx" for flute, which loses its languid character. The "Turkish Rondo" from Mozart's A major Piano Sonata is least satisfying: played in E-flat minor (instead of A minor), it sounds strident, and its breakneck pace destroys the original's grace and buoyancy. The arrangement often gives the melody to the orchestra and un-Mozartian virtuosic interjections to the trumpet. De Falla's Seven Popular Spanish Songs, orchestrated by Luciano Berio complete with castanets, come off better, and not surprisingly, two pieces by trumpet players are most successful: Jean-Baptiste Arban's Variations on Bellini's "Casta Diva," and the Nocturne from Henri Tomasi's Trumpet Concerto. Slow, dreamy and impressionistic, the Concerto is the only "original" piece on the program, and the listener wishes the disc had included all of it. On this record, the playing's the thing. Alison Balsom is a stunning virtuoso; she commands a huge register, a large range of dynamics and colors, and can achieve hair-raising speeds with ease and clarity. This is her second CD; the first was an all-Bach album. --Edith Eisler

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