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Sound The Trumpet
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Amadigi di Gaula - Sento la gioia [4:36]
Atalanta - overture [3:52]
Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne - Eternal Source of Light Divine* [3:26]
Suite in D HWV341 Water Piece [7:18]
Oboe Concerto No.1 in B flat [7:28]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
King Arthur
- Suite [14:11]
The Fairy Queen - Suite [14:07] and The Plaint (Act V)** [7:37]
Come, ye Sons of Art - Sound the Trumpet* [2:28]
Alison Balsom (trumpet); *Iestyn Davies (counter-tenor); **Lucy Crowe (soprano);
The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock
rec. St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb and Henry Wood Hall, London, October 2012
EMI CLASSICS 4403292 [66:17]

I was almost put off this dazzlingly brilliant CD when I read on the tray artwork “Alison Balsom - natural trumpets”. Personally I have something of an aversion to natural trumpets - and horns - due to the fact that their harmonics just sound horribly out of tune to the modern ear so used to the world of equal temperament tuning. The skill and musicianship required to master such instruments is, however, without question. On playing the CD I soon became suspicious because there are no tuning issues whatsoever. Everything is immaculate so what’s actually going on here? I think the clue is to be found on the cover photograph. The instrument is not a natural trumpet as such but one that should really be described as a baroque trumpet - one without valves but with modifications such as vent holes in the tubing to assist tuning. I’m pretty sure I am right here but stand to be corrected. The second caveat is that most of the music presented here is arranged or edited by Trevor Pinnock and Alison Balsom so the purist brigade may well be hesitant from the outset. I have no such issues - the music-making is a joy from beginning to end. 

Alison Balsom’s playing is stunning. The tone and intonation are fabulous; the lip trills, ornaments and runs simply staggering. How she achieves this level of technical assurance on an instrument without valves is remarkable and she makes it all sound like a piece of cake. Throughout the collection she is expertly accompanied by Trevor Pinnock, a real baroque expert if ever there was one, and his excellent orchestra is the perfect choice for a programme of music such as this.
Turning to the music, the CD opens in lively fashion with Sento la gioia, an arrangement of a coloratura aria with the solo trumpet replacing the vocal line. OK, it’s not what Handel originally intended but it works really well and puts down a benchmark for the stellar standards achieved by the rest of the disc. Handel’s Birthday Ode and Purcell’s Sound the Trumpet are especially moving and the counter-tenor, Iestyn Davies, is a formidable partner for Ms Balsom, offering as he does a purity of intonation and clear diction. Lucy Crowe’s rendition of The Plaint from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen is sensitively and beautifully sung and it’s obvious that there’s an equal musical partnership captured here with the trumpet replacing the original oboe line with no detriment to the music whatsoever. Indeed, Ms. Balsom’s legato playing isn’t that far removed from the sound world of the oboe.
The arrangements of the suites from Purcell’s King Arthur and The Fairy Queen by Alison Balsom both work very well as does Trevor Pinnock’s arrangement of Water Piece based on Handel’s Water Music (in the first movement) and other Handelian sources. The disc concludes with an arrangement of Handel’s Oboe Concerto in B flat, arranged and transposed into C major. Like the rest of the programme it is played with assured virtuosity and ravishing tone. The recording throughout is sparkling, warm and realistically balanced. Only the most unbending of purist zealots would fail to love this record.  

John Whitmore