Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall [Debussy Préludes, Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata & Chopin]

Préludes – Book II [selection: Brouillards; La puerta del vino; La terrasse des audiences du clair du lune; Les tierces alternées]
Piano Sonata in D minor, Op.31/2 (Tempest)
Nocturne in D flat, Op.27/2; Ballade in F minor, Op.52

Imogen Cooper (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 4 July, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Imogen CooperAn intriguing BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall began with four Debussy Préludes. The colouristic effects applied by Imogen Cooper to these pieces made them come alive, not least through her use of the piano’s sustaining and dimmer pedals. Her technical command of the tricky ‘Brouillards’ was remarkable, beginning very softly but ending with a shrillness in the right-hand at its climax. This dynamic range characterised her performances of ‘La puerto del vino’, which was very quiet indeed at the close, and ‘La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune’, where she played around ever so slightly with the habañera in the left-hand to delicious effect. The note clusters of ‘Les tierces alternées’ again benefitted from through using the sustaining pedal, staccatos trapped as if frozen.

The performance of Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata was no less dramatic. One of those Beethoven works that goes hell-for-leather in its faster passages, the work offers a glimpse forward in the composer’s output, and Cooper was keen to emphasise this in the mysterious introduction. Once the rapid music was in play the left-hand was particularly forceful with the first theme, while the second was strongly accented. The contrast between uneasy calm and full-blooded attack was vivid throughout, and in the second movement the audience was hushed by Cooper’s beautifully rendered pianissimo, with plenty of time taken over each phrase, which heightened expectation for the moto perpetuo finale, said by Czerny to be inspired by a horse galloping past the composer’s window. Cooper may well have had this in mind in her flowing delivery, fingers skating over the keys as the music hurried on its way.

Following this with a Chopin nocturne was a curious decision, but one that worked relatively well to herald the more-tempestuous music of the final Ballade. While the Nocturne favoured a profusion of rubato, authentically delivered but perhaps too mannered, the Ballade demonstrated strength and resolution in abundance. Cooper’s surety of technique was remarkable, particularly in the closing pages, but the passage building up to this peroration was carefully managed. For an encore Cooper leapt into action for Chopin’s ‘Black Key’ Etude (Opus 10/5), not as fast as some but delivered with considerable élan.

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