Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Bristol Proms @ Bristol Old Vic, Bristol

27 July - 1 August 2015

Alison Balsom

Alison Balsom

If the BBC Proms festival is the grande dame of the summer concert season, then the Bristol Proms must be its enfant terrible little sister. Only three years old, this series of performances, talks and interviews in and around the city’s splendid Georgian Old Vic theatre is perfecting the art of presenting classical music in an imaginative but credible way.

Highlights included two mid-week concerts by brother-and-sister string duo Håkon and Mari Samuelsen and trumpet star Alison Balsom. The Samuelsen siblings (Håkon on cello; Mari on violin) chose a programme of works connecting the Baroque and modern minimalism. As Kings Place’s Minimalism Unwrapped season earlier this year showed, such crossovers can be tenuous, but there was a certain logic in the pairing of works like JS Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV 1004 – artfully and movingly played by Mari Samuelsen – with Giovanni Sollima’s Alone (1999) for solo cello, whose darkly brooding qualities were explored by her brother Håkon.

Elsewhere, the Norwegian pair exhibited a sense of adventure and rediscovery, with arrangements of movements from Philip Glass’s film scores Mishima and Bent, Arvo Pärt’s Fratres and Ludovico Einaudi’s Divenire. The Baroque side of things was made up with Handel’s Passacaglia in G minor in an arrangement by Johan Halvorsen, the Sonata in G major (re-written for violin and cello) by the relatively unknown Jean-Baptiste Barrière (1707-1747) and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Violin and Cello in B flat major. In this and other pieces by Glass and Pärt the siblings were joined by members of Sinfonia Cymru – a versatile and assured team of players.

Old, new and crossover music made up the late night trumpet prom from Alison Balsom. Britten’s Fanfare for St Edmundsbury was complemented by David Mitchell’s At the Top of the Tide, which won the Fanfare for Bristol competition and was premiered by Balsom at Paddington Station on 27 July to mark the opening of the Bristol Proms. In between and afterwards Balsom was joined by other players on trumpet, harpsichord and percussion for music by John Eccles (1668-1735), Purcell and Vivaldi. Cheekily, but effectively, the latter’s Concerto for Three Violins RV551 was arranged for three trumpets in which Balsom gave full range to her fluent  technique.

A self-effacing and engaging presenter and performer, Balsom conceded that there are “only about three” trumpet concertos in the classical repertoire, so the remainder of the evening was given over to jazz and blues numbers, and a new piece by Pierre O’Riley, in which Balsom accompanied herself on a loop pedal. Her stylish delivery didn’t need the addition of the animated graphics on the big screen at the back of the stage, which proved more of a distraction than an enhancement of what was, essentially, good old-fashioned musical entertainment.

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Bristol Proms @ Bristol Old Vic, Bristol