This was the first in a series of four lunchtime concerts entitled “Imogen Cooper and Friends” recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the first week of December. Here the ‘friends’ were violinist Henning Kraggerud and cellist Adrian Brendel, who took their seats at the platform when the pianist began the concert by herself.
The music of György Kurtág is remarkable for its density and compression of thought, and the brief utterance of ‘Hommage to Schubert’ was beautifully distilled in this performance. But for a host of added notes this could, in rhythmic profile, have been a brief Moment Musical, of which Schubert composed six for piano, but Kurtág’s more-complex harmonies suggested a tribute from afar, Cooper finding plaintive sentiment in the fragmented phrases. Without a break we were led into Schubert’s Notturno, affectionately played and lyrically phrased. Cooper’s sensitivity in the soft, spread chords was a notable feature, and the tender opening contrasted with the more expansive and gutsy central section. There was an intense musical chemistry between the three performers, and their use of rubato
was uniform, the phrasing of one of Schubert’s very finest melodies united.
The three musicians proved a good match of personalities, too, with Kraggerud keen to bring out the humour within the great E flat Piano Trio, with Brendel his more reflective colleague. The piece’s impressive structure – this account of it clocking in at just over 47 minutes – was almost an aside, as this captivating performance whisked past in a flash. There was an ideal mix of impish humour in the faster music – which had Cooper smiling on several occasions – and introspection, led mostly by Brendel in the solemn Andante. The interplay between the players was a joy, with supple rhythms and accents that spoke of their enjoyment of Schubert’s sleights of harmony, where themes are displaced unannounced into distantly related keys, such surprises still within the gift of these meticulously prepared musicians. The dynamic range was significant, too, with moments of exquisite intimacy contrasting pertinently with big-boned fortissimos.