LSO/Harding Imogen Cooper – In C

Symphony No.7 in C, Op.105
Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503
Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61

Imogen Cooper (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra
Daniel Harding

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 19 October, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Daniel HardingA concert of three masterpieces in which the performances of the two symphonies were impressive in parts and the concerto stole the show. A concert, too, in which some LSO principals were not regular ones, although each was distinguished – particularly timpanist Antoine Bedewi who gave a superb display (crisp, dynamic and vital) and Fany Maselli (her bassoon purred in the Mozart!).

Although six double bassists was the maximum for the evening, there was no lack of foundation for Sibelius’s final symphony. Indeed, this ‘shortage’ of numbers added to the lucidity of Daniel Harding’s clear-sighted and richly expressive interpretation (radiating from centrally placed violas and cellos, violins antiphonal). If Harding’s view was less monumental than the well-established one of Sir Colin Davis’s with this orchestra (although his tempos were equally spacious), Harding’s concern for polyphony and transitions paid many dividends and the trombone statements (nobly played by Katy Jones) were both organic and significant. What didn’t quite come off was the final climax and its aftermath, the former not as momentous as needed, the latter slightly slack in pace and bordering on the sentimental, enough to ‘distort’ Sibelius’s symphonic edifice.

In Schumann’s Second Symphony, Harding took an age to traverse the Sostenuto assai introduction and lost some woodwind detail to brass; he also held back the Allegro (yes, there is a ‘ma non troppo’ qualification), but this was a little too reined-in, emotions under wraps, to the extent that the speeding-up for the coda sounded as an add-on. The scherzo though was a tour de force, played with brilliant deftness at a fizzing tempo, the second trio wonderfully coloured, and yet with something held in reserve for an electrifying coda, before turning to a blissful account of the wondrous Adagio, not as lit from within as ideal but leaving in no doubt as to this movement being a ‘highpoint’ in 19th-century music. The finale was uncommonly well observed in terms of texture – it bubbled and cavorted to an in-scale yet triumphant coda and a further example of magnificent timpani-playing.

Imogen Cooper was in top form for one of Mozart’s greatest works, her playing notable for its subtlety and purpose; so natural, so revealing. Harding and the LSO proposed a suitably ‘maestoso’ tempo for the first movement to which Cooper responded with grace and elevation, Alfred Brendel’s cadenza a brilliantly inventive foil. The pathos of the slow movement was fully brought out, and the finale found Cooper in impish mood, discovering a box of delights without seeking novelty for its own sake.

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