Tine Thing Helseth; Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Eivind Aadland
EMI Classics 0 88328 2

Seraph – Trumpet Concertos
Alison Balsom; Scottish Ensemble
EMI Classics 6 78590 2

Having received, within days of each other, two CDs with much in common, it was decided to include them in a double review. The first is Storyteller, trumpet solos performed by Tine Thing Helseth with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Eivind Aadland, piano. The other is Seraph, trumpet concertos played by Alison Balsom with various accompaniments. The commonality is that both contain performances by young women trumpet players and both depart from the “traditional repertoire” usually associated with trumpets.

Storyteller is an apt title for the first CD. Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth takes a very different approach to the trumpet and her repertoire. As she describes her approach in the program notes, “My sound is my voice.” There are no “show off” selections here. You won’t find Carnival of Venice or similar traditional trumpet technical challenges to display the soloist’s virtuosity. Without exception, the works performed were not written for trumpet. Most were originally for voice by such composers as Rachmaninov, Dvořák, Delibes. Sibelius, Grieg, Mahler and Saint-Saëns. The soloist is singing her stories to her audience through her trumpet.

As I scanned the list of titles on the disc, one stood out above all others for me. Here was my all-time favourite operatic aria with a different voice: “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. Ms. Helseth’s trumpet voice came as a surprise. Rather than the usual tone with an edge usually associated with the trumpet, her tone is warmer and mellow, more like that of a cornet. Most of the time her lyric passages are smooth and appear effortless, but on occasion her tonguing is assisted by the technique of a slight bit of valve flicking. For me this did not detract in any way from my enjoyment. In all, it is an excellent departure from the usual trumpet fare.

Of the 22 tracks on the CD, Kurt Weill’s Je ne t’aime pas and Grieg’s eight-movement The Mountain Maid are with piano accompaniment. All others are with full symphony orchestra.

In contrast, Seraph, with one exception, contains works written for trumpet by such 20th-century composers as James MacMillan, Toru Takemitsu, Alexander Arutiunian and Bernd Alois Zimmerman. The one exception is a slow haunting arrangement of the Negro spiritual Nobody knows. That latter selection is followed by, and contrasted with, a trumpet concerto by Zimmerman entitled Nobody knows de trouble I see based on the same spiritual theme.

These are definitely not your standard trumpet fare, and for me at least, will require repeated listening to determine my level of approval. From a performance standpoint, as with her other recordings, Alison Balsom excels. As a passionate champion of contemporary music, she highlights the many voices of her instrument that are not normally heard, and introduces them to her audience.

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