Imogen Cooper - depth rather than dazzle

Have you been to a concert somewhere in the world recently? Share your thoughts with us about the performance, the more details the better!

Moderators: Lance, Corlyss_D

Post Reply
Posts: 1802
Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Imogen Cooper - depth rather than dazzle

Post by Ricordanza » Sun May 15, 2016 12:35 pm

There are lots of things to be happy about in May. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, and baseball season is in full swing. But it also marks the season’s end of the piano recital series of the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. This year, the concluding recital on Tuesday evening, May 10, was an especially varied and satisfying offering by the British pianist, Imogen Cooper. Yes, it was varied, even though all pieces fit within the 19th Century Romantic period:

Schumann: Geistervariationen (Ghost Variations)
Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 (Dances of the League of David)
Wagner: Elegie
Liszt: Années de Pèlerinage, Book II: Italie [Four Selections]
Il Penserosa
Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Prelude (Transcribed by Zoltan Kocsis)
Liszt: La Lugubre Gondola No. 1
Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Liebestod (Transcribed by Franz Liszt)

I had never heard—indeed, never heard of Schumann’s “Ghost Variations.” Written shortly before Schumann was committed to a mental asylum, and published after his death, the piece starts with an original theme which, although in a major key, manages to be melancholic. The first four variations are rather sedate and introspective. The fifth and final variation is more exuberant, but then, with a brief restatement of the theme, it ends. Cooper gave it her best shot, but the piece just seems to be missing the spark of inspiration.

The “Ghost Variations” seem especially limited when compared with the next work. Davidsbündlertänze is one of Schumann’s most imaginative works. In 18 segments, he explores a wide range of musical and emotional material. Cooper’s performance was just what one wishes for Schumann. She used rhythmic flexibility to make us pay attention to each segment without losing the forward momentum that characterizes Schumann’s piano writing. The dynamic shading was subtle, but just enough to emphasize when needed.

I can’t say much about Wagner’s Elegie, since the piece is so short, it ends almost as soon as it begins. But I can say something about the four selections from Book II of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage. These are among Liszt’s finest works, with the opening and closing pieces in this set among my personal favorites: Sposalizio, because I played it; and Sonetto 104 del Petrarca, because it is one of the most sensuously beautiful of all piano works. All four were tastefully and memorably rendered.

My immediately preceding concert experience included an orchestration of a piano piece, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Tuesday evening’s recital concluded with the opposite: two transcriptions of orchestral music for piano. The Prelude to Tristan und Isolde was skillfully arranged by the eminent Hungarian pianist Zoltan Kocsis. More frequently performed is the Liszt transcription of Liebestod, and Cooper delivered fine performances that emphasized the still surprising harmonies of both works.

There was one recurring flaw, and that was a stray sound or buzz when she released certain notes. I attribute that to unfamiliarity with the particular instrument she played for this recital. But overall, she was in complete command of her program. Don’t go to an Imogen Cooper recital expecting to be dazzled with a jaw-dropping technique. But do expect, and experience, a pianist with depth and commitment to every work she performs.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests