09 May 2007

Alison Balsom: Caprice

Dare one assume that with this disc, Alison Balsom becomes the first artist to bring her lung power to both Norma’s “Casta Diva” and Die Zauberflöte’s “Der hölle rache” in the same recital?

The crucial distinction here would be that Ms. Balsom is not a vocalist, although her singing tone on her chosen instrument, the trumpet, deserves acknowledgment.

Actually, the Bellini selection is an arrangement (by Julian Milone) of Jean-Baptiste Arban’s “Variations on ‘Casta Diva’.” For Caprice serves primarily as a showcase for the phenomenal technique of Ms. Balsom. Whether whipping through Milone’s adaptation of Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca,” tangoing in Piazzolla (Milone again), or sighing through her own version of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” Ms. Balsom leaves no doubt that she possesses not only great technical skills but also an admirable interpretative touch.

Perhaps the disc would be even better with a bit more focus; to skip from Paganini’s famous “Caprice” to Berio’s settings of Falla’s “Seven popular Spanish songs,” with Bach and Debussy still to come, can create a sort of musical whiplash. Consider the recording more “iPod material” then — something to dip into or enjoy along with other music using the “shuffle” feature.

Edward Gardner, recently appointed to lead the orchestra for English National Opera, here conducts the Gothenburg Symphony Orhestra. They provide wonderful support for their star, who need not rely on her physical attractions — estimable, as the photos demonstrate — to hold an audience’s attention. A very enjoyable disc.

Chris Mullins