To say Imogen Cooper`s programme at St John`s today was very unusual would be a great understatement.
Anyone who begins a recital with Schumann`s Geister variations and ends with Liszt`s Bagatelle sans tonalite` would be undertaking a hazardous task that is for all but the greatest of musicians and so it was the ovation that she received from a rapt public that decreed in which category Imogen Cooper can lay claim today.
Of course daughter of that great musicologist Martin Cooper author of a definitive book on French piano music and much feared but revered critic from a bygone age.
I can remember as a teenager Imogen playing Ravel’s Valses Nobles to Vlado Perlemuter in Dartington in 1968 to be greeted by such praise from the very man who had studied the works of Ravel with the composer.
Not only praise for her musicianship especially in the elusive Epilogue but also praise for her perfect french.Not surprising for someone who had studied with Yvonne Lefebure in Paris,no doubt on her father’s authoritative advice.
All the serious musicianship was there and a Chopin Mazurka too brought great admiration from one of the great Chopin interpreters of our time.
Not a pianist in the fiery virtuoso mold but more of a rather rigid ,serious, demeanour at the piano much as her great forebear Myra Hess .
In fact it is very much in the mold of Myra Hess that we were regaled with two hours of pure music this evening.
Like Myra Hess her technical prowess is sufficient if not overwhelming but what is remarkable is her music making where every note has its just meaning .
Beginning with Schumann’s last work the Geister Variations a very elusive work on a theme ,so it goes,sent to him by the angels.
A work rarely played but recently taken up by the great Menahem Pressler in his 90th year.
If she had not immediately come to grips with the over resonance of the hall she created the atmosphere necessary for what would have been,as she announced, Schumann’s 206th birthday.
And so the scene was set for a work that Rubinstein considered not effective enough to play in public the same opinion shared by Clara and voiced to her future husband.
But since the historic recording of the simple ,musicianly performance by Gieseking and the extraordinarily mellifluous performances of Geza Anda times have changed and the Davidsbundlertanze op 6 has become an important part of the repertoire of great musician pianists.
Murray Perahia won the Leeds competition in the early 70’s with this and the almost unknown Mendelssohn Sonata op.6 .
It takes a great musician to tackle such works on the major London stage and so it was that Imogen Cooper kept the audience spellbound for the 30 minutes it takes to unfold all Schumann’s fantasy world.
Nowhere more evident of the complete understanding in this performance was the final dance where Floristan and Eusebius share the stage and impish humour is mingled with a nostalgia at the thought of saying goodbye to a beautiful evening .
Infact all through the eighteen dances the impish almost Viennese charm of Floristan shared the stage with the beautiful introspection of Eusebius.
The 14th dance sang so exquisitely in Imogen Cooper hands as did the 17th” as if from afar”,as Schumann indicates .
If the Balladenmassig and Frisch found the artist at her limit it was the same price that the public worldwide had accepted in their unbound admiration for Myra Hess .
Very interesting second half of Wagner Liszt and Liszt Wagner.
Four short works from Liszt’s Annees de Pelerinage from his travels in Italy .
A wonderfully atmospheric Sposalizio and Penseroso and a very jaunty Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa based,in fact ,on a skipping tune by Bononcini.The Sonetto n.123 by Petrarca was imbued with a beautiful cantabile and passionate outbursts that this poetic tone poem depicts.
The thirteen bar Elegy that was a jotting that Wagner penned whilst composing Tristan and finished at the completion of Parsifal in Palermo led without a break into the prelude from Tristan in the transcription of Zoltan Kocsis.A beautifully realised transcription by this hungarian pianist one of a trio of great pianist musicians to appear under the spell of their mentor Annie Fischer ,that includes Andras Schiff and Deszo Ranki.
And again in this musicianly designed programme the Lugubre Gondola written by Liszt on visiting the ailing composer in Venice ( where Liszt had a premonition of the composers death that ,infact, happened six weeks later in this very city) leading directly into Liszt’s own renowned Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.
Imogen Cooper created such an atmosphere that there were many moments of silence before the audience burst into spontaneous applause and cheers were heard from her many admirers.
A virtuoso encore of Liszt’s rarely performed Bagatelle sans tonalite brought this evening of pure music to a brilliant ending after a second half of almost unbearably searing emotions.