on 5 February 2013
I always thought counter-tenors were an acquired taste, and after several decades of listening to music, I acquired it. Iestin Davies has a spectacular range and control with very pure sounds and amazing vibrato and the duets with AB's trumpet are for me the highlight of this extraordinary album.
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?
This is yet another cracking disc from Alison Balsom. Here she plays music for Royal occasions by Handel and Purcell, both of whom wrote wonderfully for the trumpet, and the result is something rather special.
The programme itself is a real pleasure: there are some very well-known pieces and also some less familiar stuff, and it's varied and hugely enjoyable. Thus we get the vigorous, joyful Sound the Trumpet by Purcell, and also his soulful and deeply moving Plaint from the Fairy Queen, and almost everything in between including an excellent transcription of a Handel oboe concerto. It's a disc you can play from start to finish without it ever sounding samey, and there are some really terrific highlights.
The performances are brilliant throughout. Alison Balsom, of course, is superb and her work here on the baroque trumpet is magnificent. As always, her playing of the virtuoso passages is a sparkling delight, but it is in the slower, more contemplative pieces that I think she really shines. The control, lovely tone and emotion she brings are quite exceptional and show her to be a genuinely world-class musician. She is joined by two fabulous singers, countertenor Iestyn Davies and soprano Lucy Crowe, and Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert are, as we have come to expect over may years, outstandingly good.
I cannot recommend this disc too highly. It is a joy and will bring pleasure to those new and new-ish to classical music and to crusty old veterans like me. It's a gem.
on 7 March 2014
This is one of those rare discs that work as a complete whole, as well as containing much wonderful music. My wife and I even keep a copy in the car, to be renewed by it at least once a week!
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.
on 29 October 2012
The natural trumpet is a pig of an instrument to play. Its intonation is insecure, it requires a lot of puff and it's all lips and tongue. No wonder trumpeters were the musical royalty of their day, seated on platforms slightly higher than the other musicians, and with their lines at the top of the score, along with the other "royal" instrument, the drums. The scary thing is that Alison Balsom makes it all sound soooo easy - no parps, no toots, immaculate silvery tone, sublime runs, flawless trills, simply astounding. The music is, appropriately, all music of the baroque period, some of it adapted, and with an occasional vocal soloist. Ms. Balsom is ably accompanied by The English Concert and its old concertmaster Trevor Pinnock, and few know better how to handle baroque than these, among the stalwarts of HIP. A thoroughly enjoyable record.
on 14 November 2012
It is claimed on the cover of this recording that Alison Balsam plays a natural trumpet. This is most definitely not so. The term 'natural trumpet' is most often reserved for the original instruments of the Baroque whose tubing is completely free from interference, and whose harmonics would not have suited the modern ear. They required immense, virtuosic skill to pull their errant harmonics back into tune, a fact that baroque composers would have known only too well, and known not to have dwelled too long on those notes. And while these instruments may have better suited quite well the just intonations used at the time, they definitely do not sit so well with the equal temperament we are used to today. Alison is playing what we usually call a 'Baroque trumpet', a modern modification of the natural trumpet that provides the performer with vent holes to change the fundamental harmonic of the instrument so that the errant upper harmonics can be reached in other ways, and done so with a greater certainty of being in tune. These vent holes are clearly visible on the second yard of the instrument Alison holds on the cover, and you can see her using these in the promotional videos for the album on YouTube.
But this should in no way detract from the skill involved in playing the instrument, nor from the beauty of the music contained on this disc. I bought this disc solely for the excerpt from Handel's Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. I have Simon Preston's 1978 recording with the Academy of Ancient Music and James Bowman, and I have heard a few others. This is one of my favourite pieces of music. But here on this disc Pinnock manages to take this simple ode and escalate it to the divine. The much slower pace of this interpretation only serves to underscore the awe that is encapsulated in the text, and Iestyn Davies's pure and controlled voice celebrates every word. While I am not a huge fan of some of the liberties taken with other pieces on this disc (notably the rearrangements and altered melodic lines of those pieces not originally intended for trumpet) I am suitably impressed with many of the other tracks on this disc. There is much to enjoy here.
on 9 April 2013
Probaly one of the best performances of purcel's " Sound the trumpet" that I have ever heard competing with Alfred deller's version. The counter tenor is brilliant.
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 ?
on 8 April 2013
When I saw the video of Alison Balsom on youtube I wanted his new album purchased!
The album is really good, the Baroque style is very well played and the execution of Alisom Balsom's trumpet is great, it's warm, it's impressive, is majestic and all that in one woman.
I recommend the album Sound the Trumpet - Alison Balsom as is the current expression of the baroque in the hands of a great artist
on 10 March 2013
I don't regularly buy music and hadn't heard of Alison before hearing her on Classic FM, but this CD is truly inspirational and I play it a lot. Alison plays with the fine tuning which is only possible on a real trumpet (with no valves), and with seemingly effortless grace and sensitivity, that her music is absolutely compelling.
on 31 December 2012
I have only recently started to appreciate classical music and this is one of my purchases (or rather one that I requested as a Christmas gift!) and I absolutely love it. It is engaging from the very first track with a warm, rich sound and the combination of instruments and pieces works very well. Highly recommended.
I really like this disc, even though I feel a bit "sniffy" about it and feel that I ought to disapprove of a disc of famous pieces by Handel and Purcell arranged for a star "glamour-puss" trumpet soloist. Sure, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood's learned sleeve-notes try to justify the project, but really these pieces are better heard in their "original" versions.
Against all the odds, however, Alison Balsom just about makes it work, thanks not only to her impressive virtuosity and wonderful musicality on a baroque trumpet, but also to the empathetic accompaniment provided by The English Concert led by that doyen of harpsichordists, Trevor Pinnock. I would defy even the worst musical snob not to find something to enjoy here.
The sleeve-note suggests that trumpeters were to the orchestra what castrati were to the opera and that composers such as Handel and Purcell embodied the sound of the human voice in the expressive power of a metal instrument, the trumpet.
For me, the Handel arrangements work the best. The disc opens in splendid fashion with "Sento la gioia", originally a showpiece coloratura aria from the opera "Amadigi Di Gaula" and ends with a wholly successful transposition of Handel's Oboe Concerto. The overture to "Atalanta" and the "Water Piece" , taken from items from "The Water Music" and the opera "Partenope" work equally well. The beautiful aria "Eternal Source of Light Divine" from the "Birthday Ode for Queen Anne" is exquisitely sung by the counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and his voluptuous alto line is effectively embellished by Balsom's liquid trumpet vocalisation.
Balsom provides equally sensitive accompaniment to Lucy Crowe's gorgeous singing of "The Plaint" from Purcell's masque "The Fairy Queen"., where the trumpet effectively replaces the original oboe role. The last time I heard Lucy sing this was back in 1997 when we were both part of group touring France with a production of "Dido and Aeneas" which was "fleshed out" by some other Purcell numbers; even at the age of 18, she was a quite remarkable talent. The other duet between voice and trumpet, "Sound the Trumpet" may have seemed a good idea at the time (Miss Balsom writes enthusiastically about it in the sleeve-notes), but for me it doesn't quite work, no matter how brilliantly Mr. Davies sings and Miss Balsom plays. The arrangements of pieces from "King Arthur" and "The Fairy Queen", however, seem to me to work superbly well.
This disc is a bit gimmicky, I guess, and might not appeal to the "purists". but it will, I am sure, give a lot of people a great deal of pleasure.