Bath International Music Festival: Alison Balsom
Alison Balsom and Nikolai Demidenko with the European Union Chamber Orchestra
This was Haydn with a difference. Not only the strikingly elegant Alison Balsom to play his trumpet concerto but the EUCO's director, Hans-Peter Hofmann, provided a visual spectacle of mobile violin playing which mesmerised the audience. The trumpet solo showed us Balsom at her peerless best, the sound brilliantly clear and arresting in the Allegro movements: and creamy smooth in the Andante, with exemplary string playing to enhance the contrast in tone.
And the strings beguiled us too, in Mozart's Adagio in B flat, sumptuously played with all the glowing harmonies unfurling in warm serenity. Then an abrupt change of mood, Shostokovich's Concert for piano, trumpet and strings, with Demidenko at the piano and Balsom on the trumpet. It is a rare combination, the piano taking a major role, yet giving the trumpet very telling interpolations.
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The Lento movement is particularly evocative with a wistful soulfulness, before a brief Moderato movement leads into a cascading and syncopated Allegro con brio, bringing a bravura chase for the line. A great piece, not often heard, which brought together virtuoso pianism from Demidenko, with Balsom providing extra fireworks. The strings were entirely sympathetic.
And their chance came in Tchaikovsky's Serenade for String Orchestra, with its well-known graceful opening melody. It has a wonderful sense of contrasting sound pictures: a dreamy waltz with a touch of melancholy and an enchanting cello theme in the finale, taken Allegro molto con spirito which took the breath away.
It was string playing of supreme quality, especially the pianissimo, and we had an encore: a surprise, Hofmann called it – was it Haydn, or Mozart? Opinion was divided among the audience and Hofmann blew us a kiss as he scampered off the stage.
As an added bonus, Alison Balsom gave a short interview with Joanna MacGregor in which she revealed her sadness that J S Bach never wrote a concerto for trumpet. Hearing her play, I am sorry too.
Peter Lloyd Williams