This disc, by the young Canadian oboe and cor anglais
player Philippe Magnan, contains a cunningly devised programme. Alongside
arrangements of ‘pop’ classics by Mozart, Rachmaninov and Debussy, there
are works to intrigue the specialist – i.e. either actual players of
the instruments or those with a particular interest in woodwind music.
The latter category contains some charming little pieces by Raymond
Guiot, of which perhaps the most appealing is Afternoon Blues, and
two rather lovely recital pieces by Eugène Bozza, which are an
expressive Lied for cor anglais and a more lively Conte Pastoral
(‘Country tale’) for oboe.
Magnan has cast his net wide, for there is the quite
surprising inclusion of the Billie Holliday song ‘Don’t explain’, sounding
very beautiful on the cor. It goes without saying that much is lost
in the absence of Holliday’s unique style and vocal quality. But something
is gained too, for the ‘cooler’ version we have here draws attention
to the song’s wonderful melodic line and dark, rich harmonies.
Another piece to feature the cor anglais is Lalliet’s
Fantaisie originale, a pretty tedious piece of 19th
century note-spinning, but which does contain some passages of whirlwind
fingering and rapid tonguing to remind us what this normally rather
stately instrument is capable of when it gets moving (oddly, the otherwise
quite informative booklet makes no mention of this particular piece
at all; presumably just an oversight). Magnan is more than equal to
these technical challenges, and throws them off with casual relish,
as he does with that famous show-stopper and finger-twister, ‘The Flight
of the Bumble-bee’, with which, following in the tracks of Christian
Lindberg (trombone), Kim Walker (bassoon), Emma Johnson (clarinet),
and I’m sure many others, he chooses to finish this enjoyable disc.
Magnan is a brilliantly accomplished player, of that
there is no doubt, and he is ably accompanied by Claude Soucy. There
is style and imagination in Magnan’s playing, and plentiful evidence
of flawless technique as well as scarily perfect intonation! The recording
is excellent, too – close enough to feel intimate, yet not right up
the bell, which can create all kinds of problems.
However, the truth is that to make a recital like this
a truly compelling experience, you need a bigger musical personality
– that of a Holliger or a Borg – and Magnan, for all his talent hasn’t
quite got that.