Imogen Cooper 60th-Birthday Concert at Wigmore Hall

Duets – Ich wollt’, meine Liebe ergösse sich; Abschiedslied der Zuvögel; Gruss; Wasserfahrt [tenor & baritone]
An die Laute; Abendstern; Dass sie hier gewesen; Die Sterne
Clara & Robert Schumann
O Lust, o Lust [Clara]; Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan I & II [Robert]; Die stille Lotosblume [Clara]; Venezianische Lieder I & II [Robert] [baritone]
Pohádkas I, II & III
… interspersed with …
Robert Schumann
Stücke im Volkston (II & III) [cello & piano]
Auf dem Strom [baritone, cello & piano]
Fantasy in F minor for piano duet

Imogen Cooper (piano) with Mark Padmore (tenor), Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Sonia Wieder-Atherton (cello) & Paul Lewis (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 28 September, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Imogen CooperThe quality was extraordinary – a choice event, a tribute to Imogen Cooper’s discerning taste in friends. The outcome, for us, was the chance to hear music-making of a calibre we shall not hear again for some while.

In first place, was the delight – an ever-present feature of the evening – of hearing one of Britain’s most accomplished pianists with cool, skilled sensitivity and rapport.

The Mendelssohn duets were outstanding. Imogen Cooper’s style and idiom is especially well-suited to this composer’s flowing lightness and poise, touching occasionally on darker moments of greater intensity. Add to that, the blissful, seamless blending of the two male voices – masters of their craft, singing as one. This was rare indeed.

The Schubert songs with Mark Padmore were lightweight in their writing, even if not in their content. These flowing, surface-billowing settings passed by easily, comfortably and melodiously. The pain in “Abendstern”, the indication of unrequited homosexual love was only hinted at, decorously. There was a serious, bell-like reticence to Padmore’s singing, recalling Britten.

The Clara Schumann songs were impassioned and romantically strong, in contrast to Robert’s songs which were unexpectedly extrovert and exuberant, cocking a snook against papa Wieck’s disapproval of Robert’s pursuit of Clara. Wolfgang Holzmair brought a Viennese lilt to the occasion, presenting the Schumanns’ contrasting styles with ease and flair, with drama of gesture (elegantly restrained) and, in some of the phrasing, a welcome suggestions of Viennese operetta.

Sonia Wieder-Atherton combines heart and head in virtually perfect balance. With calm, dignified presence she contributed a further note of distinction to this occasion. She played Janáček’s quirky and haunting Pohádka with commanding skill and mastery. Further, her love for this extraordinary music was palpable. (Cooper contributed bravely.) The two pieces by Robert Schumann, in no less distinguished performances, movingly displayed the cello’s capacity for silken lyricism and sonorous depth.

Schubert wrote “Auf dem Strom” especially for the only concert solely devoted to his music in his lifetime. He chose Rellstab’s poem of journeying from light to dark and wrote a sustained, dignified elegy in which the cello adds flow and weight to voice and piano; the performance was of grave, entranced beauty.

The finale was Schubert’s cocky and rousing Fantasy in F minor. The opening brandishes its minor key almost stridently, yet we proceed quite soon into various manifestations of the major, fairly exuberant but less brazen than its minor counterpart.

Three other pieces appeared. Imogen Cooper began proceedings with a brief miscellany of Straussian waltz-moments; Holzmair gave us a debonair aria from a light stage work; finally, all five musicians joined in a further waltz-like arrangement. In her introductory welcome, Imogen Cooper had let us know that her birthday evening would be gentle and Viennese.

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