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 Recording of the Week  Alison Balsom: Sound The Trumpet

Next week sees the release of a new disc of baroque music from Alison Balsom. ‘Sound the Trumpet’ is a beautifully varied collection of Handel and Purcell, bringing together both composers’ finest music with royal and ceremonial connections. Most of the tracks have associations with a particular English king or queen, whether contemporary with Handel and Purcell (the birthday-odes for Queen Mary and Queen Anne make an appearance, as does the Water Piece which was commissioned by George I), legendary (King Arthur) or fictional (Titania from Purcell’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream).

Alison Balsom
Alison Balsom

I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Alison a few weeks ago for a quick chat about the album, and what became apparent just seconds into the conversation was how close to her heart the project has been and how exhilarating she’s found the whole process of researching, transcribing, rehearsing and recording this repertoire. It’s been one of her long-term goals not just to record some of the music we hear on the disc, but also to work with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, who’ve been one of her main inspirations since she first started playing, and the easy rapport between soloist and band is evident from every bar of every work.

The disc kicks off with an aria from Handel’s Amadigi – not, as I’d expected, the one for soprano with obbligato trumpet, but a scintillating arrangement of the alto aria ‘Sento la gioia’: it’s a sparkling, virtuoso opener, and a very appropriate one given that the word ‘joy’ cropped up time and again as Alison enthused about the music.

Vocal collaborations come later on, as she’s joined by two of the finest young British Handelians around at the moment: soprano Lucy Crowe and countertenor Iestyn Davies. Lucy contributes a pellucid performance of Purcell’s sparsely beautiful lament ‘O Let me weep’ from The Fairy Queen and Iestyn (who’s just won a Grammy for his Arias for Guadagni disc) joins Alison for an ethereal account of one of the greatest of all duets for voice and trumpet, ‘Eternal Source of Light Divine’, and a splendidly poised ‘Sound the Trumpet’. The latter is one of several transcriptions on the disc, which I found out were joint labours of love from Alison and Trevor Pinnock, though in this particular instance the second alto line fits the trumpet perfectly with virtually no modifications needed!

One of the great pleasures of this disc is the seamless and apparently effortless blend of trumpet and each voice: Alison colours her timbre to take on almost crumhorn-ish tones when duetting with Crowe, whilst there’s plenty of ‘front’ and metal in the sound when she joins Davies for the more vigorous Purcell.

Astonishingly, everything on the disc is played on natural trumpet – and with no breaks in the recording-sessions to allow for re-adjustment! This is Alison's first solo disc to be performed exclusively on the baroque trumpet, and on first hearing we’d all assumed that she was playing on a modern valve-instrument, perhaps with a few switches to piccolo trumpet for the high-lying passages: that gives you some idea of the flawlessness of the playing!

As usual you can listen to sound samples via the link below, and there are also two short videos to watch – one with clips from the recording session and the other my recent interview with her (sorry about the sound!). We have several more short video-interviews to share with you over the coming months and hope that they’ll give you that little bit of extra insight into what the musicians are really trying to achieve in their recordings and perhaps why they’re particularly special.

It is released next Monday, and you can pre-order it now.

Alison Balsom: Sound The Trumpet

Royal Music of Purcell and Handel

Alison Balsom (trumpet), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Lucy Crowe (soprano), The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC