Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor, K491
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Fantasia in D minor, K397
Imogen Cooper (piano & director)
Northern Sinfonia [Bradley Creswick (leader & co-director)]
Recorded 8-11 November 2007 in Hall One of The Sage, Gateshead, England
Reviewed by: Graham Rogers
Reviewed: June 2008
CD No: AVIE RECORDS
Duration: 70 minutes
There is much to recommend this second issue of Mozart piano concertos from Imogen Cooper and the Northern Sinfonia. A follow-up to the same team’s disc of No.9 (K271) and No.23 (K488) – on AV2100 – this present coupling is of two of Mozart’s grandest piano concertos: the turbulent C minor and the majestic C major (both first movements enjoying Alfred Brendel’s imaginative cadenzas). The short D minor Fantasia, for solo piano, is thrown in for good – though, arguably, unnecessary – measure.
Stylish and refined, the performances are attractively scaled, capturing moods of both compelling intimacy and dynamic excitement. Cooper is a sensitive Mozartean. Her softest tone, usually reserved for the beautifully poised slow movements, can sound a little under-nourished; but mostly her fluid, incisive touch, never over-played, is perfectly suited to Mozart played on a grand piano.
The modern-instrument Northern Sinfonia proves itself to be a near-ideal partner, with a vibrant, chamber-sized string band and delightfully characterised and clearly defined winds. Cooper shares the director’s credit with the orchestra’s leader, Bradley Creswick.
The opening movement of the C minor Concerto, Mozart at his most stormily dramatic, is colourful and compelling in its drive; but momentum sags at times in the finale, which might have benefited from the guiding hand of a conductor.
The tendency to over-love the music is also apparent in the opening movement of the C major work, which, while brimming with appropriate pomp and relished detail, lacks the lively swagger needed to inject stylish buoyancy. That the overall tempo is a fraction too slow (even for Allegro maestoso) is most clearly evidenced by the slightly faltering second subject of the orchestral introduction; though there is still much to enjoy in Cooper’s well-controlled and insightful account, especially the heart-warming tenderness of the wistful piano theme. Though enchantingly smooth, the Andante is a trifle indulgent in places, and Mozart surely intended the finale, here nevertheless joyously performed with affectionate if measured aplomb, to have a little more spring in its step.
The Fantasia is an attractive extra, the initial improvisatory D minor section emotionally reigned-in but compelling, and the concluding D major Allegretto sympathetically ornamented (a practice Cooper eschews, or attempts half-heartedly, in the concertos).
This excellently recorded release will certainly appeal to devotees of Mozart’s piano concertos – and Imogen Cooper’s considered approach will doubtless yield further rewards on repeated listening.