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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Schubert Imogen Cooper (piano), Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, July 14th, 2003 (CC)


 

Imogen Cooper’s evening recital at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in February this year included both of the pieces in this lunchtime concert: Beethoven’s Variations on the duet ‘La Stessa, La Stessissima’ from Salieri’s Falstaff, WoO73 of 1799 and Schubert’s late A major Sonata, D959, of 1828. They weren’t juxtaposed in the first recital, but there was a definite point of contact between the two concerts.

In February, Cooper had a memory lapse in the Haydn F minor Variations which, as I wrote at the time, ‘cast its shadow over the performance of the A major Sonata’. Here, four months on, a memory lapse was unlikely in the Variations (she used music), yet there was the equivalent: Cooper lost her way in the contrapuntal variation, leading to an unsettling feeling of momentary disorientation. Not as severe, perhaps, but disconcerting nevertheless. And a shame, as there was much to admire: the liquid right hand legato at the start, the playful staccato (but the ‘walking bass’ was not nearly as successful as at the QEH!), the interior shading of the minor key area. Cooper was at her best in the fragile passages, capturing their elusive nature perfectly; wit triumphed at the close.

No sense of an interruption to the flow of the A major Sonata this time, however. Schubert’s large span unfolded naturally, the Allegro of the first movement qualified by an evident wish to give drama due weight and to give tenderness due space. All of this needs a fine sense of harmonic overview over the stretch of the entire movement, and this Cooper presented in spades, so that the moment of recapitulation functioned as a true arrival point.

Concentration in the Andantino did not initially equal that at the QEH, however, the Winterreise-like sense of desolation only slowly emerging. There is a nocturnal aspect to this movement, particularly in its later stages, which is particularly difficult to invoke in the bright light of a fine summer’s day. The more improvised middle section was the most successful part, with the recitative-like right hand and dramatic chordal interruptions excellently presented. Again, however, it did not erase memories of February.

A couple of missed cross-hand effects in the Trio did not detract too much from the playful, skittish Scherzo. It was a pity, though, that Cooper only hit top form in the finale, leaving us wanting more. Here there was a multitude of subtleties in the calm turns of phrase. The musical argument unfolded completely naturally, with the dramatic sections providing just enough contrast without disturbing the ongoing sublime outpouring.

Finally, a word about audiences. Nice though it was to see the Wigmore full to bursting, the hall’s policy on latecomers should be looked at. Having to rise to let latecomers in while Cooper began the Beethoven hardly encourages tranquil listening and was particularly surprising given that this recital was broadcast live.

This was the final concert in the 2002/3 lunchtime series. Angela Hewitt opens next season’s offerings on September 15th.

Colin Clarke


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