Alison Balsom is a fine trumpet player, so it’s always a treat to hear a new album from her. The trouble is, the popular trumpet repertoire is relatively small, and there aren’t really a lot of things in Ms. Balsam’s field she hasn’t already recorded. This time, she takes on music of the Baroque period, with pieces by Purcell and Handel. Moreover, Trevor Pinnock and his English Concert accompany her, which makes the disc a double delight since I didn’t even know he and his ensemble were still recording.
Because the English Concert are a period-instruments band and because Ms. Balsom is performing Baroque works, she plays a Baroque trumpet for the occasion. This is not the easiest thing in the world since the Baroque trumpet is quite different from a modern trumpet: It has no valves, for one thing, making it more difficult yet more expressive to play. As she explains it, “we hear the breathing of the musician, the beginning of the notes, the complex beauty of the technique--in short, the human being in the sound.” She calls it “an adventure.” For the listener, it is a distinct pleasure.
As we might expect from such consummate artists, the solo playing shines, and the accompaniment is lively, enthusiastic, and precise.
Things begin with George Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) “Sento la gioia,” edited and arranged by Trevor Pinnock. It makes a good curtain raiser, especially played with such love and affection as the performers do here. It’s also typical Handel, so you’ll recognize the style of the music and identify the composer instantly.
There follow a suite from King Arthur by Englishman Henry Purcell (1659-1695); the Overture to Handel’s Atalanta; Handel’s Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne; a suite from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and later a vocal number, “The Plaint,” from The Fairy Queen with soprano Lucy Crowe; Purcell’s Sound the Trumpet, with countertenor Iestyn Davies; and the highlight of the set, the Suite in D from Handel’s Water Piece, drawn in part from his Water Music. It’s all a delight.
The program ends with Handel’s Oboe Concerto No. 1 in B flat, transposed into C major, edited, and arranged by Pinnock and Balsom. On the trumpet Ms. Balsom provides a gracious, vigorous, lyrical, and enlivening interpretation by turns.
EMI recorded the music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, and Henry Wood Hall, London, in 2012. The sound is well balanced, the trumpet nicely integrated into the orchestral accompaniment. In fact, it’s some of the best sound EMI has produced in the past decade. The trumpet has a resplendent tone, clearly captured by the audio engineers, along with a pleasingly warm, ambient hall bloom that gives and richness and life to both the soloist and the orchestra. Moreover, the several vocals sound quite natural, and the timpani can be mightily impressive. The room glows with a smooth resonance, a reasonably transparent midrange, strong dynamics, and clean bass and treble extension. It’s an enjoyable experience all the way around.