Sunday 23 October 2011


Something old, something new, something borrowed, something bebop.

Alison Teale, the principal cor anglais player with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has produced a new CD entitled simply Cor! Issued on the Oboe Classics label (CC2023) it is a recital disc with pianist Elizabeth Burley and consists entirely of music for cor anglais and piano ranging from the baroque to the contemporary, some pieces original, others in transcription.

Now, most of us have heard the cor anglais, the symphonic repertoire has quite a few moments when a cor anglais contributes a beautiful, often soulful melody. But Teale feels that the instrument is capable of more than this and this recital demonstrates this admirably.

The disc opens with the Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo, a wonderful, darkly expressive start to the disc and it works surprisingly well in transcription for just cor anglais and piano, even though Falla's original orchestration is vividly colourful.

In the liner notes, Teale describes playing baroque music as 'like eating a wholesome meal of brown rice and vegetables; cleansing and pure'. I did wonder whether the sonata by Robert Valentine (1680 - 1735) was more interesting to play that it is to listen to. Valentine originally wrote it for recorder and the 4 movements (slow, fast, slow, fast) are nicely constructed and fine played, without ever going further. Still, it does enable Teale to show us that the cor anglais can contribute a beautiful sense of line and colour in this style of music.

This is followed by a transcription of Messiaen's early Vocalise, originally written for voice in piano, here given in a sinuously attractive account with the long lines spun out. In complete contrast, Michael Berkeley's Snake for unaccompanied cor anglais is jagged and vicious, this snake bites. The piece is based on a short story by D. H. Lawrence, though for me the more mellifluous episodes conjured the more exotic east.

It was a nice piece of programming to follow this with the 2nd movement of the Ravel piano concerto, thus allowing a long solo moment for pianist Elizabeth Burley to contrast with the previous unaccompanied cor anglais. Burley plays sensitively and we are never left with the feeling that this is merely a piano transcription. When the cor anglais comes in for the recapitulation the mood is continued nicely, with some beautifully poised playing from both performers.

Piazolla's Nightclub 1960 was originally written for flute and guitar and allows the performers to let their hair down a bit, though this is Piazzolla's tango nuevo, with lots of subtle influences from classical music and from jazz.

Rubbra's Duo was commissioned by the Dutch oboist, Paul Bree, and is a melacholic and thoughtful piece, with some radiant moments and lines of haunting beauty.

Alessandro Lucchetti (born 1958) mixes all sorts of influences in his music, rock, jazz and others. His Rock Song No 3 is technically demanding and brilliantly played, full of frenzy and extremes. Written in 1986, it seems to introduce elements of a Prokofiev piano sonata in the the rock and jazz world.

Eugene Bozza (1905 - 1991) is evidently best known to brass and wind players, he is  name new to me. His Divertissement is another technically demanding piece, very French and impressionistic with dark and exotic moments.

In contrast, Hindemith's Sonata is full of expressionism and modernist neo-classicism; written in 1941 after Hindemith had fled to the USA (and classed as an enemy alien). It is a slightly unsettled piece, using 6 short movements in alternating slow and fast is traditional baroque style.

Saint-Saens The Swan needs no introduction, suffice it to say that Teale plays it with style and convinces you that Saint-Saens must have been thinking about the cor anglais all along.

Antonio Pasculli's (1842 - 1924) operatic fantasy on an aria from Un Ballo in Maschera is a wonderful bit of dazzling fun, especially as Pasculli ignores the tragic import of Amelia's aria and finishing in a thrillingly fun finish.

As finale we then have the delight of the Bebop tango from David Gordon (born 1965), in Gordon's lovely arrangement done specially for Teale.

On this disc Alison Teale succeeds admirably in conveying the multifaceted personality of the cor anglais. But the recital is far more than admirable, it is at times entrancing. Playing from Alison Teale and her accompanist, Elizabeth Burley is uniformly high. Teale encompasses some pretty heavy technical demands without ever making us really notice anything but the music. Burley is a fine accompanist and manages the difficult feat of making orchestral transcriptions sound perfectly natural on the piano.

If you've ever been curious about what the cor anglais can do, then do buy the disc; and if you haven't, then you'll be missing a treat if you don't.

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