Sound the Trumpet (CD review)

Royal Music of Purcell & Handel. Alison Balsom, trumpet; Trevor Pinnock, the English Concert. EMI Classics 50999 4 40329 2 0.

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.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa