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CLASSICAL MUSIC

Faces To Watch 2008

December 30, 2007|Mark Swed

Alison Balsom

Trumpeter with a smooth touch

Maurice ANDRE gets credit for having made the trumpet safe for the brunch set with his smooth, supple phrasing and easy Gallic charm. Balsom is ready to take his mantle but for one thing: She's hardly a paunchy Frenchman, let alone a trumpet-playing Maurice Chevalier for a new century. She's 29 and British and photographs like a starlet. She's made three popular CDs that exhibit a similarly welcoming, Andre-like sound and manner. She coats high notes in honey and tosses them off with seeming effortlessness. But, a bit too true to the Andre tradition, the discs tend to be a bit too much on the brunch music side, especially with trumpet arrangements of such chestnuts as Rachmaninoff's Vocalise.

For her Los Angeles Philharmonic debut Jan. 10 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, however, Balsom will show a far more urban aspect by appearing as part of the orchestra's Concrete Frequency festival. Here she will play Bernd Alois Zimmermann's neurotic "Nobody knows de trouble I see" for trumpet and jazz orchestra. A precursor of third stream, the once-controversial score, written in 1954, mixes elements from the then-burgeoning German avant-garde with jazz. Brunch music it's not, since it also presages the trouble nobody saw coming some years later when the depressive, somewhat morbid composer tidied up his papers and committed suicide.

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Nicola Benedetti

Violinist ready to take a bow

Just as EMI Classics has gladly photographed Balsom in fetching poses for her CDs, Deutsche Grammophon hasn't hesitated to highlight Benedetti's pouty lips or curves in its publicity. But given that DG reportedly signed this Scottish violinist three years ago, at age 17, to a $2-million, six-CD deal, the company will need more than photos to make back its investment.

And so far, so good. Benedetti -- who will make her U.S. debut in a recital at Pepperdine University in Malibu on Jan. 13 and then repeat it at the Irvine Barclay Theatre on Jan. 15 -- has released two very fine recordings that speak for themselves musically. On the first, she offers a raptly played concerto by the 20th century Polish composer Karol Szymanowski along with Massenet and Saint-Saens bonbons and an exquisite miniature by John Tavener. That CD was followed by one in which Mozart and Mendelssohn rub shoulders with Benedetti's contemporary countryman James MacMillan. Her tone has a luscious amber quality, making the violin sound almost like a viola. And her musicianship, at least on record, is just as satisfyingly rich.

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Ian Storey

Tenor is more than fine

STOREY's story is an interesting one. Yet another Brit, this bulked-up heldentenor -- who will make his U.S. debut as Verdi's Otello with Los Angeles Opera, starting Feb. 16 -- studied furniture making in Britain and taught in New Zealand before catching the singing bug. After building his career slowly, he has suddenly struck gold. This month he made operatic news by starring in La Scala's opening-night production of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" in Milan, Italy. Although he had never sung the title role, one of the most punishing (and rewarding) in the repertory, the company's new principal conductor, Daniel Barenboim, asked him to take it on a few months before the performance.

Reports are that Storey acquitted himself fine, but only fine, that first night. What went without saying is that fine is impressive your first Tristan out, especially one in this kind of spotlight. How he fares at the end of the run will mean far more. But you don't have to wait for the L.A. "Otello" to find out how good he is. La Scala's "Tristan" -- a new production by the great French director Patrice Chereau -- will be shown in movie theaters next month.

-- Mark Swed

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