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Review: Alison Balsom at Birmingham Town Hall

Norman Stinchcombe reviews Alison Balsom at Birmingham Town Hall

Trumpeter Alison Balsom who is hoping to pass on her experience to the next generation

This programme was either excitingly eclectic or just a mishmash, according to taste.

Most of it came from Alison Balsom’s new jazz orientated crossover album Paris so we had an amplified jazz group plus a string quartet – audible only when the drummer was silent – not forgetting the Town Hall’s organ for the classical bits.

Balsom started with what she’s best at. In Bach’s concerto for trumpet and organ, accompanied by Chad Kelly, her playing was crystal clear and bright, trills immaculate and intonation spot on, all enhanced by the Town Hall acoustics.

But why only one movement when the whole concerto lasts just eight minutes? In Debussy’s Syrinx her tone was lithe and sinuous matching the composer’s languorous music, becoming ripe and fulsome in Michel Legrand’s soupily romantic La Valse de Lilas.

Strange company this for Czech composer Petr Eben’s Green Window for trumpet and organ (Arvo Part meets Hammer Horror film soundtrack) with the performers bathed in lurid green light.

In April in Paris and jazz arrangements of standards by Gershwin, Kern and others, Balsom was always competent, courtesy of her formidable technique, but rhythmically stiff and to quote Duke Ellington: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”.

We all heartily applauded the pupils of St Martin’s C of E Primary School in Tipton who gave us a massed trumpet fanfare on instruments they have been playing for only a few weeks. They’d had an inspirational school visit by Balsom – and a night to remember.

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