Imogen Cooper Plays Schubert

16 German Dances, D783
Piano Sonata in G, D894
Moments musicaux, D780
Piano Sonata in C minor, D958

Imogen Cooper (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 22 April, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Imogen CooperImogen Cooper is one of those quiet artists who gain an international following by virtue of their interpretative insight, rather than as a result of spin and being media savvy. She is particularly associated with the music of Schubert and Schumann.

In the German Dances, which are really sketches in waltz-time, Cooper looked and sounded rather stiff in the faster pieces that require more rhythmic and dynamic freedom to bring them fully to life. In the slower pieces she was far more relaxed and produced some beautiful phrasing.

The great G major Sonata’s opening movement is marked Molto moderato and the emphasis was very much on molto at ppp. This was Schubert à la Richter, with a sense of latent power underlying the beautifully crafted surface. Cooper’s use of the pedals and entirely natural rubato was very much to the fore and these characteristics continued throughout the rest of the evening. As the first movement progressed – minus the exposition repeat – a profound sense of concentration and belief was evident in every note. The climax of the development was slightly under-powered, though, needing more drive and punch when the insistent rhythmic pattern of the first subject threatens to overwhelm all around it. The slow movement was beautifully shaped and there was a quiet sense of purpose and flow. In the Minuet the tempo was slightly too slow, but Cooper’s phrasing and dynamic control in the Trio was spellbinding – you could live for another hundred years and never hear a finer account of it. The finale was authoritative without unnecessary bravura.

The very long second half started with Moments musicaux – a bizarre title for some incredibly complex and beautiful music. In the opening piece, for all of the exquisite phrasing and singing tone, the first section lacked a sense of line, the Fifth needed more attack and the central section of the Second lacked any sense of menace. Yet there was something almost hypnotic running through these pieces. This was only a partial realisation of Schubert, but it was highly charged and compelling.

In the first of Schubert’s stupendous last three sonatas, Cooper seemed to become a different artist. Here there was attack and power in the first movement’s development section (if, once again, no exposition repeat) and a sense of inevitability to and behind every note. Each of the slow movement’s variations was exquisitely characterised and if the Minuet and Trio were marginally too slow, there was a greater sense of panache to the phrasing. The finale was a tour de force. There were no encores, understandably, but if Cooper had decided to essay all of the Impromptus I would have stayed to listen!

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