LSO/Pappano/Balsom review – elephant honks kick off Wynton Marsalis’s trumpet showcase

Rather like the American quilts whose fabric embeds a story, Wynton Marsalis’s new Trumpet Concerto is a patchwork of the history of the instrument and some of its most celebrated exponents, from Louis Armstrong to Frenchman Maurice André. Over six movements, spanning 35 minutes, Marsalis has stitched together myriad styles and characteristics, jumping continents and name-checking composers and players en passant, with a metaphorical doffing of the “Derby hat” mute in tribute.

Conceived for Michael Sachs, principal trumpet of the Cleveland Orchestra, and premiered last year by him, the multifaceted piece has been picked up by English trumpet soloist Alison Balsom. Her performance of it – first with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and now with the London Symphony Orchestra under Antonio Pappano – is testimony to her own virtuoso technique. In the Beacon Hall, Balsom delivered it with cool poise.

The most arresting sounds came at the opening: Marsalis’s appropriation of the trumpeting call of an elephant, repeated three times. A defiant, almost atavistic gesture, it wittily underlined the way air blown through an animal’s trunk and air blown through brass tubing have commonality.

From there on, the mix of classical and jazz, blues and Latin American, was a more discursive meandering – the soloist occasionally in dialogue with orchestral principals – yet with no vein of musical thought ever really settling in before the piece moved on. By the last movement, Harlequin Two-Step, the essential playfulness of Marsalis’s approach came into its own. Following chirruping birdsong and high string harmonics with their hint of a return to the jungle, the sharp tension Balsom and Pappano brought to the coda was welcome; suddenly nothing was predictable. But the elephant call did get the final blast.

Intriguing as the Marsalis concerto was, it inevitably paled by comparison with the LSO’s scintillating realisation of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, in the complete score the composer himself called a “symphonie choréographique”. Pappano, the orchestra’s chief conductor designate, was in his element here, shaping the undulating lines to maximise their grace and sensuousness, with the wordless voices of Tenebrae adding that extra touch of colour, notably as they crested Ravel’s radiant waves of sound.

The LSO luxuriated in it all, enjoying the new relationship with the Bristol Beacon – but it was the four flutes, whose exotic tones so suffuse the whole, who took the honours. Bouquets, thrown ballet-style, to them for simply wondrous playing.

by Rian Evans
Source: The Guardian

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