Imogen Cooper


Schubert Live: Volume 3

Composed by Franz Schubert

Performed by Imogen Cooper

Avie / AV2158 / Recorded at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Cooper's articulation is precise, her tempi poised, the architecture clean, the colours cool to chilly. C minor brings out the best in her. The bittersweet Allegretto and blazing first Impromptu the most arresting works in a performance of clarity and integrity.

The Independent on Sunday, August 2010

Imogen Cooper, it seems to me, offers a near-perfect balance of head and heart in Schubert, her expressive technique and musical personality wholly in the service of the composer.

Gramophone, July 2010

Cooper has a sure grasp of the music’s ebb and flow, of the sonata (D960) as a whole’s structural integrity, and her beautiful, singing line. Cooper is not about the extensions of perceived time in the manner of Kissin or Richter. Flow remains intact. Bass trills hold an inner energy that seems to outlive their sonic durations. The desolation of the Andante sostenuto is palpable.

Fanfare Magazine, July 2010

The poise of Cooper’s playing holds one breathless…Cooper’s sense of rightness of colour and her exquisite balancing of textures fully justify her reputation as one of the great Schubertians of our time.

Sunday Times, May 2010

Cooper’s sensitivity to the new light shed by remote keys is unfailing, and above all she tells the strange adventure of Schubert’s most tormented A minor sonata with unerring judgment.

David Nice, BBC Music Magazine, June 2010

The climax of Imogen Cooper’s live Schubert piano recital, recorded by the BBC, is her magisterial performance of the B flat Sonata, D960, his last instrumental work. The vast first movement’s sense of repose is subtly tinged with Schubertian darkness, while in the bereft outer sections of the second movement, the poise of Cooper’s playing holds one breathless. Equally impressive are the Impromptus, D899, and two earlier Sonatas, the bleak A minor, D784, and the incomplete C major, D840. Cooper’s sense of rightness of colour and her exquisite balancing of textures fully justify her reputation as one of the great Schubertians of our time.

Stephen Pettitt, Sunday Times, May 2010

This is a recording of the third in an admirable series of recitals which Schubert specialist Imogen Cooper gave at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2008 and 2009. It must be said at the outset that these are wonderful interpretations … thoughtful, lyrical, perceptive, technically adept, persuasive - and very, very beautiful. Above all, they bring something new and lively to the way we know Schubert. And that's saying something...

In this recital (as in the first two) Cooper is completely in control from first note to last. And she balances that control by revealing the innermost spirit of the music. It's as consistently evident as the technique needed for such communication is concealed. Cooper seems to remember that, although Schubert was writing at the start of the Romantic period, he was also writing at the end of the Classical. In other words, the romanticism, the feeling may not have limits; but they have origins. Her delicate and sensitive playing of the final work on these two CDs, the C Minor Allegretto of D915 [CD.2 tr.9] is a case in point. It misses nothing. Yet suggests so much more.

There can be no doubt that Cooper responds most readily to the romantic, the affective - at times to the tender - in Schubert's writing. Yet rarely does her playing become over-passionate; never does she unduly accentuate the visionary for its own sake. It's always the music first and last. The end of the andante sostenuto of the B Flat major sonata (D960) [CD.2 tr.6], for example, has the ethereal and wistful which we expect. Almost as Brendel plays late Beethoven. But its structure is evident too. There's a barely suppressed rigour. Such rigour comes not chiefly from following what Schubert wrote bar by bar. But from a total and perhaps rather rare, awareness of the architecture of the entire four-movement, 40-minute, construction. The gentleness and languor only become as marked as makes sense in the context of the rest of the work.

By the same token, the cold water which splashes us throughout the following two faster movements Cooper only takes at a pace which won't break the spell. It's such 'thoughtful' water (or is, at least, thoughtfully thrown) that by the middle third of the allegro [CD.2 tr.8] we are firmly yet calmly reminded of the haunting qualities both of that recent andante; and of the even longer (16 minutes) opening molto moderato movement. Qualities, not atmosphere: Cooper's rigour again. Her playing is not impressionistic. But highly disciplined. Disciplined, though, to bring out all the pain and regret which this music tells us Schubert must have felt.

Cooper is on record as saying that she doesn't find the absence of an audience detrimental to her making the most of Schubert's music. To listen to her concentration, her responsiveness to every nuance of these wonderful pieces and to her subtle variations in tempo (the end of the D960 is a case in point … the final rush is held back just the right amount) is first to ask what it can be that thus gives her studio recordings such presence. And then to answer with one word of which Cooper must approve: Schubert. She becomes utterly rapt in the music. She allows it to speak to us with great directness. Yet not to run away with us. That blend of discipline and feeling again.The acoustic is somewhat grand; it's that of the QEH, after all. But the engineers have successfully captured the intimacy and bravura of her playing, and of the occasion. Most pieces are applauded - we hear that briefly. The booklet has background, commentary and a biography of Cooper which is, characteristically, shorter than Misha Donat's essay on the music.

The real test with so many other recordings of this repertoire available on CD is whether you will want to return to listen to these often. The answer in this case is clear: Yes.

Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International