Sound the Trumpet: Royal Music of Purcell & Handel
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In the year of Queen Elizabeth II s Diamond Jubilee, Alison Balsom
celebrates the heroic era of the Baroque trumpet in works by George
Frideric Handel (1685-1759) and Henry Purcell (1658 or 1659-1695),
whose anthems, odes, sinfonias and operas have provided the music for
numerous royal celebrations from their own day to the present.
Joining forces with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert orchestra
that he founded, Balsom demonstrates the versatility and expressive power
of her valve-less instrument in original works and new arrangements.
These include Purcell s Sound the trumpet and Handel s Eternal Source of
light divine in duet with countertenor Iestyn Davies and Purcell s The
Plaint from The Fairy Queen in duet with soprano Lucy Crowe.
Recently crowned Female Artist of the Year for the second time at the
Classic BRITs, Alison Balsom has cemented an international reputation
as one of classical music s great ambassadors and is ranked among the
most distinctive and ground-breaking musicians on the international
circuit today. Balsom has also been honored with numerous awards by
Gramophone, Classic FM and ECHO Klassik.
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She plays 'em all....Is there with the all-time greatest: M. Andre'..
Top international reviews
Alison Balsom has collaborated extensively with the great Trevor Pinnock to plan out this whole venture. Pinnock is reunited with his beloved English Concert, in inspired form, for the first time in over a decade, and Alison’s playing is supremely good and also notably distinctive.
People still seem to marvel that such a beautiful-looking musician could be this good, which I think must betray our assumptions about brass players – if Alison Balsom were a singer we would expect such glamour. Here she is playing several Baroque trumpets, not the early ‘natural’ trumpet but a vented adaptation of it, as Andrew Irvine points out in his review. But the point is that these instruments have a much less flashy tone than the modern valve trumpet – blending rather than dominating. Alison’s tone and intonation are fabulous, and to me it’s astonishing that she can perform such lip trills, ornaments and runs on an instrument without valves.
And I would agree with Sid Nuncius and others that Alison plays the slower music with a beauty and tenderness of tone that no other brass soloist I’ve heard can match. This is surely as close to the human voice as an instrument can get, and I was reminded of an interview she gave when she recalled her love of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis’ unique tone.
So what might at first glance put many listeners off – the prospect of an exhausting wall-to-wall blaring trumpet-fest – turns out to be wonderfully varied and subtle. Pinnock and Balsom have re-arranged some of the music for her trumpet, but not in order to show her off. They have planned out a careful balance of different moods, which really brings out the finest qualities of both Purcell and Handel. No doubt a few purists will complain that music has been arranged for a different instrument – but they should remember that all Baroque composers did this regularly, to their own and others’ music.
To emphasise the balance and variety, in some movements from the two Purcell suites (The Fairy Queen and King Arthur) the trumpet is absent, and there are three tracks featuring the intelligent and lovely voices of countertenor Iestyn Davies and soprano Lucy Crowe. Although Purcell wrote ‘Sound the trumpet’ for two countertenors, here Alison replaces the second voice, and her vocal beauty of tone makes the great duet even more thrilling.
In the enjoyable album notes, she says “Purcell is my true hero … (he) repeatedly breaks out of familiar Baroque structures, surprises us with absurd rhythms and daring harmonies.” I think she and Pinnock bring this out superbly – listen for example to the marvellous, exhilarating melody of the chorus that ends the suite from The Fairy Queen.
As the reviewer in BBC Music Magazine said, this disc “contains some of the most imaginative and polished trumpet playing you're ever likely to hear”. I couldn’t agree more.
As for Alison herself, she just goes from strength to strength. The brilliant adaptations and arrangements done with the different conductors and orchestras in her more recent career have brought lots of extra breadth to our experience of music, composers I had never heard of and others whose work I thought were just dull have entered the lexicon of enjoyment. I often have Classic FM playing in the background and it seems most hours bring a tune made enjoyable by Alsion Balsom, often played by someone else.
Technically brilliant, a great teacher, beautiful, friendly and by all accounts easy to work with - A National Treasure?
I was genuinely surprised by the success of her move from 'smooth classics' to playing with period instrument group The English Concert. I have their CDs with Mark Bennett playing natural trumpet and this CD with Balsom is by no means overshadowed by that legacy.
The package arrived the day after the allotted day, but then the vagaries of the delivery service are probably to blame and anyway what is one day in a lifetime ?