- Seraph, for trumpet & orchestra
British trumpet player Alison Balsom has established herself as one of the leading performers on her instrument in the early 21st century. This 2012 album features three modern and contemporary concertos for trumpet. Balsom is phenomenally secure in her technique and in the musicality she brings to each of the pieces. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lawrence Renes, and the Scottish Ensemble, led by Jonathan Morton, provide colorful and energetic accompaniment. Bernd Alois Zimmermann's 1954 "Trumpet Concerto" is the standout work on the album. It is certainly one of the most distinguished, substantial, and immediately appealing trumpet concertos of the 20th century. It is subtitled "Nobody knows de troubles I see," and uses the melody of the spiritual as the basis for its sophisticated musical development. Like many of Zimmermann's works, its themes are political and he changed the title from "seen" to "see" to highlight the ongoing struggle for racial equality throughout the world, with pointed reference to the lingering racist attitudes of National Socialism in post-war Germany. It's an intensely dramatic and inventive piece; Zimmermann interweaves the original spiritual with jazz influences and modernist techniques in a way that's emotionally direct and thoroughly engrossing. Balsom negotiates its extreme demands with complete assurance. The "Trumpet Concerto in A flat" by Armenian composer Alexander Arutiunian, written in 1950, bears the stamp of the Soviet demand that music be immediately entertaining for the proletariat. The concerto is tuneful and uses folk material and for the most part sounds like it could be the soundtrack for an "exotic" adventure film. What it lacks in musical sophistication it makes up for in the opportunities it gives the soloist to really shine melodically. James MacMillan's 2010 concerto "Seraph," which Balsom premiered, is an inoffensive but not especially profound work, characterized by pleasant, lyrical note-spinning. EMI's sound is pristine, balanced, and nicely ambient.