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Royal Fireworks

Alison Balsom (trumpet); Balsom Ensemble (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Royal Fireworks
JS Bach: Christmas Oratorio – extracts; Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks (arr. S Wright); Purcell: Sonata No. 2 in D; Funeral Sentences for the Death of Queen Mary II; Telemann: Trumpet Concerto, TWV 51:D7
Alison Balsom (trumpet); Balsom Ensemble
Warner 9029537006   51:83 mins

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A celebrated soloist on modern trumpet, Alison Balsom is also a superlative exponent of the valveless Baroque instrument. Her performances on this disc of Purcell’s Trumpet Sonata and Telemann’s only surviving Trumpet Concerto are exemplary: clean, clear and supremely confident on their ascents into the extreme upper register.

Unfortunately, those are the only works presented in their original scoring. Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks is arranged by Simon Wright (who also directs it from the harpsichord) for trumpets, timpani and strings, which removes the interplay between choirs of trumpets, oboes and horns that’s such a feature of the original. In the festive choruses which make up most of the similarly scored suite from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the trumpet section is joined by a second group, picking up whatever is playable on their instruments from the oboe parts and the choral lines. Purcell’s music for Queen Mary’s funeral, written for a quartet of slide trumpets, is performed by straight trumpets and a single sackbut – though it’s good to hear a vocal quartet singing Purcell’s Funeral Sentence ‘Thou knowest, Lord’.

Make no mistake, everything is superlatively played, in a supportive church acoustic. Several tracks – including Bach’s famous ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’, with the chorale on trumpets – will surely win a lot of airplay. But when I hear, for example, Alison Balsom’s dazzling performances on the top trumpet lines of those Bach choruses, I can’t help thinking how much more exciting they would sound in their original context.

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Anthony Burton