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Casta Diva (Matilda Lloyd)

Matilda Lloyd (trumpet) Britten Sinfonia/Rumon Gamba (Chandos)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Casta Diva – Operatic Arias Transcribed for Trumpet
Arias etc by Mercadante, Bellini, Ricci, Arban, Rossini, Viardot, Donizetti et al (Trans. William Foster and Mikhail Nakariakov)
Matilda Lloyd (trumpet) Britten Sinfonia/Rumon Gamba
Chandos CHSA5321 (CD/SACD)   63:43 mins

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The works of the bel canto opera composers have always been well known to brass players. Their melodies were reworked as staples of the brass-band repertoire in the 19th century and continued to be played on park bandstands and in pit villages well into the 20th. This album, on the other hand, does something new in making the trumpet the solo ‘voice’ in a series of arrangements for small orchestra by William Foster of operatic numbers and trumpet studies based on operatic themes by the 19th-century cornetist Jean-Baptiste Arban. All are used to display the considerable talents of young British trumpeter Matilda Lloyd – winner of the 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year Brass Final – as well as those of the Britten Sinfonia, on sparkling form under the baton of Rumon Gamba.

The numbers on this recording have been selected to demonstrate both the variety of a repertoire sometimes perceived as a little monotonous and the expressive versatility of instruments within the trumpet family. (Lloyd plays the C, D, B flat and E flat trumpets, plus the flugelhorn, a more mellow instrument showcased here in Rossini’s Prélude, thème et variations, originally for horn and piano.) The project succeeds on both counts, showing that not all early 19th-century Italian operatic numbers are cut from the same cloth and very much liberating the trumpet from its customary military associations.

In introspective arias such as ‘Oh! mie fedeli’ from Bellini’s Beatrice Tenda and ‘Oh! quante volte’ from I Capuleti e i MontecchiLloyd plays with intense expression and immense warmth. The flawless tone, purity of line and dynamic subtlety she coaxes from her instrument are shown off to particularly impressive effect in Arban’s set of variations from Norma, in the evergreen showstopper ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ from L’elisir d’amore, and in the plaintive Prelude to Act II of Don Pasquale, all three accompanied by the orchestra with particular tenderness. Providing contrast with the plethora of early- 19th-century operatic numbers are two chansons, somewhat more modern in style, by the mezzo-soprano, pianist and composer Pauline Viardot, a figure connected to Rossini, Donizetti et al by being a noted interpreter of bel canto roles. In Viardot’s ‘Havanaise’ and ‘Chanson de la pluie’, Lloyd demonstrates the trumpet’s capacity to be sultry, almost going into a kind of laid-back jazz-club mode.

Elsewhere we are in entirely different terrain, with joie de vivre in abundance. The delightful, toe-tapping ‘Ah sì, questo di mia vita’ from Mercadante’s Zaira, and Luigi Ricci’s jubilant Tarantella Napoletana from La festa di Piedigrotta – the latter far closer to gypsy or folk music than opera – are so exuberant and played by Lloyd with such ‘swing’ that they will make you want to get up and dance. A cheeky interpretation of
‘Quel guardo il cavaliere’ from Don Pasquale rounds off an album full of delights, which succeeds in showing that the trumpet can indeed be every bit as expressive as the human voice. Overall, this is immensely assured and really great fun.

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Alexandra Wilson