Alison Balsom: Jubilo
There tends to be a ‘usual suspects’ element to most Christmassy discs, but Alison Balsom’s collaboration with the orchestra of the Academy of Ancient Music and the organ of King’s College, Cambridge, has ultimately inspired an altogether more unexpected programme of works, even while the repertoire isn’t necessarily of the headline-grabbing variety.
More of a headline is Balsom’s alternation of valveless Baroque trumpet with modern trumpet, and this makes for some lovely timbral contrasts across the programme. The gentler-volumed valveless instrument is a perfect fit for the light-textured Fasch, Torelli and Corelli concertos, while the richer-toned modern trumpet, with its greater ability to inhabit the lower registers, shines alongside Cleobury’s organ as it takes the melody for Bach’s Schübler Chorales.
True highlights are the Fasch and Torelli concertos, where we get to fully appreciate Balsam’s immaculate, singing-toned clarino playing to the full. Equally, I was held transfixed through her long, fluid and wonderfully shaped obbligato lines above the Choir of King’s College in ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’.
Less of a highlight for me was Simon Wright’s arrangement of Corelli’s Op 6 Christmas Concerto. This sees the solo trumpet alternate between doubling the violins and soaring above them with new descants and obbligato lines, and it is unquestionably the latter device that works best, most beautifully in the third-movement Adagio. Why? Because ultimately a trumpet is still a trumpet, and not a natural blending partner to a string ensemble, meaning that its doubling of the violin lines has the effect of throwing the balance of parts awry, which in turn waters down some of the music’s usual stringy zing.
Still, this disc has some wonderful moments, and it’s also a rare seasonal offering that doesn’t have to be put into hibernation once December is over.