on 1 March 2012
Oh yes! Well done Alison Balsom and team. While she perfectly sensibly filled her previous CD releases with many familiar, popular pieces and strong transcriptions often from the baroque and early classical period, this CD is in a different league altogether. It takes some modern compositions that are musically superb, but have remained obscure because they are so darned difficult to play (so a lot of good trumpeters have stayed reluctant to try). Alison took the mature decision to wait until she felt able to add something in her interpretations, which has now paid off in a truly exceptional collection of recordings.
The set starts off with the one new piece, written by James MacMillan and dedicated to Alison Balsom. I'm generally not a huge MacMillan fan, as I feel he is often too intense and over-indulgent for my taste; but this three-movement trumpet concerto entited 'Seraph' is really good. Yes, its got MacMillan's trademark big intervals and dissonant structures, but he's given us enough tune to hang our hat on. There are several passages that must have taken every last breath and required extreme practise and precision. It works well, with the trumpet and Scottish Ensemble never at odds with one another.
Next is a piece by Toru Takemitsu for solo trumpet, inserted by Alison as a palette-cleanser after the concerto. Takemitsu's piece explores the range of the trumpet, from soft muted phrases to boldness. Like much of his work, it has a beautiful structure and gently touches the heart.
Alexander Arutiunian's Trumpet Concerto is full of lively energetic rhythms and calls for huge amounts of virtuosic playing, which Alison delivers by the bucketful. Anybody wanting to hear a modern trumpet concerto that is well structured and tests the mettle of its participants would be well advised to check this out. I love it!
Next up is another palette-cleanser, with solo trumpet on the spiritual 'Nobody knows'. This is very tastefully played, with much emotional depth.
The final piece is Trumpet Concerto 'Nobody knows de trouble I see' by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Written in response to the composer's observation of racism in the years immediately after the end of the Second World War, the piece has more technical challenges for the soloist to face, and emerge triumphant. This piece is wonderfully written, but its style was somewhat contrary to the tastes of modernism in vogue at the time it was composed. It deserves another chance and is played exceptionally well.