On the present album, "Royal Fireworks," she presents a collection of six virtuosic works from the Baroque age, featuring the music of Handel, Purcell, Bach, and Telemann. The pieces are all done up in new arrangements for solo trumpet (Ms. Balsom, as usual, playing a natural, valveless trumpet) and a small baroque ensemble (natural trumpets, sackbut, theorbo, strings, timpani, organ, harpsichord, and vocals). The results are unique and, as always from Ms. Balsom, delightful.
First up is George Frideric Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks. Listeners used to hearing the suite played by a modern orchestra or by a big ensemble of period instruments (Handel originally scored it for around sixty players, and some in attendance at the original event reported seeing about a hundred players in the band) may find Ms. Balsom's recording with but a handful of musicians a bit undernourished. However, with a vibrant recording and an enthusiastic performance, one may not notice such quibbles. Ms. Balsom carries the day, to be sure, but her accompaniment is splendid, too. No, I would not recommend her reading as a first choice with so many other fine recordings available, but it makes an interesting alternative interpretation with Ms. Balsom's trumpet in the forefront of the presentation.
Following that is Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in an endearing arrangement that again highlights Ms. Balsom's excellent execution. It moves along at a healthy but never rushed gait and marks a pleasant few minutes.
Then, there is George Philip Telemann's Trumpet Concerto in D. It's in four very short movements and represents a good change of pace from Purcell's sonata. It begins, perhaps unusually, with a stately Adagio and then alternates more vigorous sections bookending a solemn one. So, it's slow, fast, slow, fast. Unusual, as I say, but fascinating in its contrasts.
After the Telemann is another of J.S. Bach's pieces, a suite from the Christmas Oratorio. This and the Handel that opens the show are the longest works on the program and the centerpieces of the album. Ms. Balsom's trumpet stands out strongly in these new arrangements, while the other trumpets add a richness to the proceedings.
The music ends with Purcell's Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary II. Here, we find even more percussion work, plus a vocal quartet, so it adds to the variety of the album. It's appropriately grave, yet evocatively charming and makes a fine conclusion to the program.
Producers Simon Kiln and Alison Balsom and engineer Arne Akselberg recorded the music at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London in August 2019. Big sonics here: wide and resonant, with a good depth of image. It isn't the most transparent of recordings, but it is realistic in its sense of place--the natural warmth and bloom of the venue--and it captures the Purcell vocals realistically. So, while ultimate clarity may not be its long suit, its hall ambience and strong dynamics help to compensate.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: