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Review: Pastoral Fables – works for cor anglais and piano, ABC Classics

David Barmby

Two esteemed Australian musician colleagues collaborate in a unique project.
Review: Pastoral Fables – works for cor anglais and piano, ABC Classics

Pastoral Fables – works for cor anglais and piano. Album cover image via ABC Classics.

A low oboe, the English Horn or cor anglais as it is more widely known, is neither an English nor French invention but was created in Silesia in the early 18th century.  It is largely known for its unique colouristic solo voice within the standard orchestra from the 19th century onwards.  There are, however, few concertos written for the cor anglais and although chamber music repertoire exists, it is certainly not thick on the ground.  It is probably for this reason that, but for one work, the repertoire recorded on this newly released CD was not originally written for the instrument; the three main sonatas by Beethoven (Op 17), Schumann (Op 105) and Brahms (Op 120 No 2) were conceived for natural horn or cello, violin, and clarinet or viola respectively.  Because it is an innately melodic instrument, these transcriptions for cor anglais produce mixed results, the Brahms being overall the most successful, whereas the third Lebhaft movement of the Schumann makes some heavy weather when attempting to reproduce string articulation, while we miss some characterful arpeggiatic vigour in the Beethoven.

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Transcriptions tend to take something away from the original, yet can provide something new and attractive that one may not have noticed before and that is the case here.  In the hands of Alexandre Oguey, principal cor anglais in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Neal Peres Da Costa playing a Viennese-action grand piano after J.B. Streicher and Sons (1868) by Paul McNulty, both musician colleagues at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, adjustments and compromises in Oguey’s arrangements are always carefully considered and skilfully resolved.

With some incidental works interleaved with the sonatas (notably Schumann’s exquisite pastoral miniature Alpenkuhreigen - Ranz des vaches from Manfred, Op 115, superbly performed here, and an arrangement of Brahms’s Wiegenlied, Op 49 No 4), the recording has an overall quality of poignant lyricism.  This review provided a rewarding opportunity to savour Oguey’s superlative cor anglais playing with its attractive, subtle vocal qualities, including expressive ‘breaks’ into its treble range.  The solid and well-known artistry of keyboardist Neal Peres Da Costa continues to impress, particularly in 19th century chamber repertoire performed on period instruments, a realm in which he has more recently specialised.

The sound and balance are first rate.

Recommended.

Rating: 4 stars ★★★★ 

Pastoral Fables – works for cor anglais and piano

Alexandre Oguey and Neal Peres Da Costa

ABC Classics ABC 481 7026

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

David Barmby is former head of artistic planning of Musica Viva Australia, artistic administrator of Bach 2000 (Melbourne Festival), the Australian National Academy of Music and Melbourne Recital Centre.