Piano Sonata in C minor, D958
Piano Sonata in C, D812 (Grand Duo)
Imogen Cooper (piano) [D958]
Imogen Cooper & Paul Lewis (pianos)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 5 September, 2013
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis are close friends, with Alfred Brendel mutual, for whom the music of Schubert is held dear. With the composer’s music lending itself to late-night listening, this was an ideal match of musicians and repertoire.
Cooper began with the C minor Piano Sonata, explaining in the programme that she chose this piece above its two companions (D959 & D960) for its greater projection in a big venue. That was certainly the case with the crunch of the opening chords, and it was helpful to have the first-movement exposition repeat observed to give the ear time to fully adjust to the sound of a solo piano in the Royal Albert Hall. Cooper’s volume was just right, and when the music was quieter, the (thankfully) attentive audience leaned in to listen. Cooper’s phrasing was exquisite, the right hand octaves given as if floating on a soft breeze. In her reading, there were very slight degrees of rubato, which were integral to the success of both the Adagio and the following scherzo-like Minuet, which Cooper combined without as much as a pause for breath. Despite the acoustic, her clarity in the finale was beyond reproach; Schubert’s private soundworld accessed with dignity but also with revealing insights into the torture and twisted thoughts behind this work.
The ‘Grand Duo’ is one of Schubert’s biggest works for piano/four hands, but Cooper and Paul Lewis opted to play it on two pianos so that each could use the pedals. The piece is notably less ‘domestic’ than other works Schubert wrote for this medium; it’s on an orchestral scale, which Joseph Joachim made reality when arranging it in 1855. Symphonic it certainly was here, although both pianists were at pains to keep the intimate discourse of Schubert’s melodies. Imposing gestures did appear, most notably in the hunting fanfares of the third movement, but the trio took a very different turn, mysterious and elusive as a frown descended over the music’s countenance. From the off, things had been amicable, the music having moved to C major. Cooper and Lewis interpreted the first-movement Allegro moderato as closer to the Andante of the second, but thanks to concentrated delivery the pianists ensured success. In the finale Cooper in particular enjoyed the staccato delivery of the folksy tune, the music tripping along with joyous freedom. The friends delighted in the intimacy of their music-making, almost unaware that there was an audience eavesdropping on their every note!