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Live reviews – 2012

The Schubert A minor Allegro that opened set out the stall, its forceful opening confident but not aggressive – the notorious Wigmore acoustic was perfectly judged. Textures were beautifully, and always intelligently, balanced, as was to be the case throughout the evening. What’s more, Cooper and Lewis found an uneasy undercurrent in D947 that seemed entirely apposite. Balancing this, Lewis provided an exquisite bed of sound over which Cooper scattered pearls of notes…

…A wonderful, memorable evening – there was no encore, by the way. A great, heart-warming way to lead us into the Festive Season proper.

Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International, 15 December 2012

With Paul Lewis's solo Schubert series having finally run its course, this recital with Imogen Cooper of Schubert's music for four hands provided the ideal postlude. In many ways, their partnership, though infrequent, is ideal: their mutual empathy produced beautifully expressive playing…

…The less familiar Andantino Varié in B minor, D823, was characterised by elegant phrasing, its sublime harmonies poetically realised. High point of the evening was the Sonata in C, D812, the "Grand Duo"; its symphonic architectural span was powerfully sustained. Yet, as one would expect from two such passionate Schubertians, it was the composer's characteristic extremes, where pain and ecstasy, nonchalance and intensity offer different facets of the same lyrical impulse, that touched most deeply.

The pair created an atmosphere of great warmth, bringing an equally instinctive lilt to the Hungarian Dances by Brahms and Slavonic Dances by Dvořák between the Schubert; it was smiles all round for their playful Schubert encore, the Marche Militaire.

Rian Evans, The Guardian, 3 December 2012

Haydn’s first piano sonata, albeit written when he was nearly 40, is a restless piece, and Cooper took advantage of that, starting with a more forthright Moderato than might have been expected, firmly voiced. Her eloquent slow movement, recalling much earlier techniques, was balanced by a dashingly dramatic finale.

A fiery development section in the Presto and her strong left hand in the Largo gave the opening two movements of Beethoven’s Op 10 No 3 a portentous feel. Thereafter all was comedy: a pleasingly buffo trio to the minuet and a delightful, throwaway ending to the Rondo.

Even Cooper’s best efforts could not relieve the heavy textures of Brahms’s Theme & Variations, Op 18b. But she kept the Three Intermezzi, Op 117 remarkably light, irradiating them with soulful warmth.

Bach’s Second Partita was much more than the icing on the cake. Though it is effectively a suite of dances, Cooper sustained and built the tension throughout, from a sternly transparent Sinfonia to a breathtaking climax in the Capriccio. She had played her trump card last.

Martin Dreyer, York Press, 16 October 2012

This was the first in a series of four lunchtime concerts entitled “Imogen Cooper and Friends” recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in the first week of December. Here the ‘friends’ were violinist Henning Kraggerud and cellist Adrian Brendel, who took their seats at the platform when the pianist began the concert by herself.

The music of György Kurtág is remarkable for its density and compression of thought, and the brief utterance of ‘Hommage to Schubert’ was beautifully distilled in this performance. But for a host of added notes this could, in rhythmic profile, have been a brief Moment Musical, of which Schubert composed six for piano, but Kurtág’s more-complex harmonies suggested a tribute from afar, Cooper finding plaintive sentiment in the fragmented phrases. Without a break we were led into Schubert’s Notturno, affectionately played and lyrically phrased. Cooper’s sensitivity in the soft, spread chords was a notable feature, and the tender opening contrasted with the more expansive and gutsy central section. There was an intense musical chemistry between the three performers, and their use of rubato was uniform, the phrasing of one of Schubert’s very finest melodies united.
The three musicians proved a good match of personalities, too, with Kraggerud keen to bring out the humour within the great E flat Piano Trio, with Brendel his more reflective colleague. The piece’s impressive structure – this account of it clocking in at just over 47 minutes – was almost an aside, as this captivating performance whisked past in a flash. There was an ideal mix of impish humour in the faster music – which had Cooper smiling on several occasions – and introspection, led mostly by Brendel in the solemn Andante. The interplay between the players was a joy, with supple rhythms and accents that spoke of their enjoyment of Schubert’s sleights of harmony, where themes are displaced unannounced into distantly related keys, such surprises still within the gift of these meticulously prepared musicians. The dynamic range was significant, too, with moments of exquisite intimacy contrasting pertinently with big-boned fortissimos.

Ben Hogwood, Classical Source (Imogen Cooper, Henning Kraggerud & Adrian Brendel at LSO St Luke’s), 4 October 2012

The Ravel was the clear highlight of the evening… The Ravel brought with it a massive diminution in orchestral numbers. The script was obviously to give this as enlarged chamber music, quite a challenge given the sheer size (and acoustic) of the RAH. It was Cooper who facilitated this from the very beginning, accompanying the scurrying wind with perfectly judged fingerwork. There was also something incredibly beautiful about her sound. She remains one of this isle’s best pianists, her forays into Schubert always leading to memorable events, as her many London concerts have attested. In Ravel she is more of an unknown quantity, and everything she did was make one want to hear more. Her trills in the first movement were spellbinding; only the long and interpretatively difficult solo at the outset of the second movement was perhaps a trifle studied, something for which she compensated with some glorious filigree later on. The extremely fast finale (a proper presto) had plenty of character.

Colin Clarke, Seen and Heard International, 18 July 2012

Between the Respighi and the Adams came Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, more economically scored but no less brilliantly colourful. Imogen Cooper delivered the solo part with unaffected virtuosity.

Barry Millington, Evening Standard, 17 July 2012

“The smaller orchestra used for the Ravel concerto looked almost like a chamber ensemble by comparison, appropriate for the refined performance Ms. Cooper gave. She took a neo-Classical approach to this score, playing with delicacy and clarity. Letting the evocations of jazz take care of themselves, she was supported sensitively by Mr. Adams and the superb young players.”

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 17 July 2012.

Showing no trace of vanity, this noble lady [Cooper] is solely concerned with fathoming out the music. In doing so, she not only displays determination and a powerful touch, but in the passagework of the Impromptu in E-flat D 899, a jeu perlé that seems to take its energy from an endless source of sound.

Neue Dienstag (in German), 19 June 2012

She is that rara avis of a virtuoso who is also a consummate musician; one who thinks deeply about the composer's intent and realizes it with insights that weren't available when the work was written.

During the familiar passages of the sonata, I wondered what it was that made Cooper's playing so unusual, and settled on the word "richness." Everything she plays, from a simple chord to a rapid cadenza, seems to have an orchestra behind it. The inner voices weave some sort of magic.

…her versions of the Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2, and the Ballade in G minor, Op. 23, were among the best I have heard – tremendously exciting, brilliant as fireworks, but with meaning beyond mere display.

The pianist did not play an encore, despite a rousing standing ovation, but what possibly could have topped the Ballade?

Christopher Hyde, The Portland Press Herald, 26 April 2012

Essence seems to be what Imogen Cooper is all about. The English pianist eschews excessive showiness in her performances, preferring to get down to the crux of the composer's intent as she sees it. If you've never heard of her, it might be because she's more about the music than about grasping for the brass ring of stardom.

And if you haven't heard her play, you've missed out on some exceptional interpretations of piano works from the classical and Romantic periods. Cooper is among the modern masters…

Rob Hubbard, St Paul Pioneer Press, 5 March 2012

Four composers sang through Cooper’s playing which combined dynamic and masterful control with haunting poignancy.

The Haydn opener was a joy shared by pianist and audience where grandiose passages were sharply contrasted by her lightness of touch in the more lyrical moments.

Beethoven’s brooding Tempest sonata contained dark angry stridency mixed with emotional intensity and were again an example of Cooper’s strong interpretative playing.

Bury Free Press, 25 May 2012