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Seraph (Alison Balsom)

COMPOSERS: A Zimmermann,Arutiunian,Macmillan
WORKS: Trumpet Concertos by MacMillan, A Zimmermann and Arutiunian
PERFORMER: Alison Balsom (trumpet); Scottish Ensemble/Jonathan Morton


Unusually, James MacMillan is somewhat coy as to why his Trumpet Concerto has the title Seraph. Was he thinking of the instrument’s traditional angelic associations? Or has it more to do with dedicatee Alison Balsom’s uncanny ability to make the trumpet sing, weaving silvery-smooth long lines or pirouetting sweetly like an operatic coloratura soprano?

Seraph may not quite be another Veni, Veni Emmanuel (MacMillan’s enduringly popular percussion concerto), nor is it as excitingly combative as his previous trumpet concerto Epiclesis. But it’s still very enjoyable, from the Haydn-tinged jollity of the first movement, through a mysterious and lyrical slow movement to the rousing finale. Alexander Arutiunian’s much-played Concerto in A flat sounds a tad corny beside it – and especially after Takemitsu’s delicate, unaccompanied Paths – though it’s clearly very enjoyable to play. Balsom’s own arrangement of the spiritual Nobody knows de trouble I see then makes a fine introduction to Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s quirkily brilliant Concerto, based (just about) on the same tune.


In all of these Balsom is a superb advocate, combining technical brilliance with penetrating musicianship – a true poet of the trumpet as well as a formidable athlete. The recording spotlight is definitely on her, with the Scottish Ensemble occasionally sounding somewhat recessed. A pity, given that the orchestral writing in the MacMillan and Zimmerman is so interesting in its own right.
Stephen Johnson