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Quiet City (Alison Balsom)

Alison Balsom (trumpet), Nicholas Daniel (cor anglais), Tom Poster (piano); Britten Sinfonia/Scott Stroman (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Quiet City
Bernstein: On the Town – Lonely Town. Pas de deux; Copland: Quiet City; Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue (arr. Wright); Ives: The Unanswered Question; Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez (arr. G Evans); Weill: My Ship (arr. G Evans)
Alison Balsom (trumpet), Nicholas Daniel (cor anglais), Tom Poster (piano); Britten Sinfonia/Scott Stroman
Warner Classics 9029622991   54:09 mins

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Think of the trumpet as brash? Think of America the same way? Alison Balsom’s new recording belies both impressions. Taking its title from Copland’s Quiet City, the prevailing sense in this American musical journey is of contemplation in the early hours. More than ably partnered by the Britten Sinfonia under Scott Stroman, Balsom is mesmerisingly plaintive in the Copland, matched by Nicholas Daniel’s elegiac cor anglais. Balsom is equally adroit capturing the down-at-heel soulfulness of Bernstein’s Lonely Town and the existential transcendence of Ives’s The Unanswered Question.

Few pieces are more quintessentially American than Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and Simon Wright’s inventive arrangement for Balsom naturally foregrounds the trumpet. There is still a significant role for the piano, despatched with élan by Tom Poster, though the instrument points to why this version of the Rhapsody is ultimately unconvincing. Despite her romping, virtuosic bravura, Balsom’s wings are clipped by constant pianistic reminders of what the trumpet cannot do.

This slight misfire aside, there is much to enjoy, not least the arrangements Gil Evans made for Miles Davis of Kurt Weill’s My Shipand, more extensively, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Written for Davis’s Sketches of Spain album, the wonderfully sultry take on the Concierto was the starting point for Balsom’s project. Revisiting the improvisatory practice of jazz icons with highly idiosyncratic techniques can fall flat, but Balsom and the Britten Sinfonia make it work. They are entirely idiomatic and wonderfully engaging, both here and in their other sketches of America.

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Christopher Dingle