Imogen Cooper

Piano Sonata in C, Hob.XVI/50
Kreisleriana, Op.16
Traced Overhead, Op.15
Piano Sonata in A minor, D845

Imogen Cooper (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 30 April, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Imogen Cooper is very much associated with the piano music of the late-Classical and early-Romantic eras.

The Haydn was warm in tone with some overlong pauses; the use of the sustaining pedal was pretty uniform, ritartando and sudden sotto voce episodes affecting. However, in the slow movement the tempo was very slow, while the finale would have benefited from more spring and slightly less brittle tone.

Schumann’s great Kreisleriana unfortunately received a monochrome performance. Cooper was not at ease either with the need for sudden emotional changes or the essentially quixotic nature of the composer. The way in which each of the movements after the opening has the prefix sehr should indicate the direct and powerful conflictswithin the piece, but Cooper’s response belied this.

There were some moments of great beauty in the two intermezzos of the extended second piece and the langsam marking of the seventh was raptly conveyed. But there were also slight diminuendos and pauses which came close to becoming agogic, and in the faster sections everything seemed to be voiced between f and ff, with – as in the Haydn – too much use of the sustaining pedal (which made her tone uniform), a lumpy rhythmic base and a lack of tension.

Thomas Adès’s Traced Overhead dates from 1997 and is in three short sections making much of the contrast between the angular, heavily dissonant right-hand and the left which hints at and finally achieves greater serenity – indeed at one point in the first piece (Sursum) there was a chord which sounded positively Schumannesque. The problem with the piece is its lack of individuality; there was nothing to identify the stamp of the composer; this was surprising in that it dates from the same time as the superb orchestral work Asyla. It reminded me of much of Adès’z earlier choral work, which seems to contain bits of the entire English choral tradition, with a few hints of jazz but little that is truly original. Cooper’s performance was competent but the right-hand lacked savagery and the left a truly benedictive quality.

Which brings us to Schubert, Imogen Cooper’s signature composer. Here the first subject was taken at a genuine Moderato with a slight slowing in the second half of the theme; however, whenever the theme recurred there was a slight and distracting pause between each of the halves. The staccato march of the second subject was strong but not threatening and, again, Cooper seemed unable to vary her tone. The development’s climax was powerful, as was the didactic coda, but a greater sense of flow, danger and inevitability was needed.

Her performance of the second movement variations was serene, but the sense of underlying whimsy that Richter and Pollini find here was missing. In the scherzo there needed to be more percussive attack and greater clarity, yet the trio had a beautifully modulated sense of tolling bells. The finale, where the contrast between first and second subjects mirrors that of the first movement, needed more definition, tonal nuance and dynamic change. As with other parts of the recital there seemed to be a lack of concentration and the very tight expressive rein that Cooper kept herself under didn’t allow her to uncover all of Schubert’s tonal and emotional world.

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