So ingrained is the trumpet’s reputation for brilliant fanfares and "Flight of the Bumblebee"-style pyrotechnics, it’s easy to forget that it is also a distinctively lyrical instrument. The Norwegian trumpet player Tine Thing Helseth (pronounced Teen-eh Ting Hel-set) explores its melodic potential with “Storyteller,” a collection of songs about love and loss by late Romantic composers (including Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Sibelius and Grieg) as well as some mid-20th-century names (Weill, Korngold, Canteloube).
This is Helseth’s debut album for EMI and her introduction to American audiences. While just 24, the Oslo native has already built an active career as a soloist in Europe and the UK, where, like fellow label-mate Alison Balsom, she defies the stereotypically macho image of the trumpet soloist. She even founded an ensemble of ten female brass players four years ago called tenThing, which has toured Europe on several occasions.
In her liner notes for “Storyteller,” Helseth describes how, when playing song transcriptions, “you have to be even more expressive so that the song has meaning. You have to play them as though the audience can actually hear the words.”
Indeed, without lyrics, one focuses on the big tunes here, which include Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” and Strauss’s “Wiegenlied,” both about the relationship between mother and child. It's a theme that has special resonance for Helseth: Her mother is an amateur trumpeter who inspired her to take up the instrument as a child.
Another thread that runs through the collection is anguish over lost love, expressed in “Marietta’s Lied” from Korngold’s opera Die tote Stadt, Canteloube’s “Malurous qu’o uno fenno” and Weill’s “Je ne t’aime pas” ("I don’t love you”). At the heart of the program is Haugtussa, collection of songs by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg that tells the story of a young herding girl -- her first love affair and her first heartache (played here with piano accompaniment).
Helseth applies a liquid legato tone and commanding range to these and other selections. If the ultra-Romantic string arrangements start to feel a bit heavy at times, one can’t fault a trumpeter who puts over an hour’s worth of music on her first release. Especially since Maurice André's passing last month, Helseth brings some needed fresh air to the trumpet.
Tine Thing Helseth
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Eivind Aadland
Available at Arkivmusic.com