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