Imogen Cooper Heart to Heart at the Wigmore Hall

Imogen Cooper live at the Wigmore Hall
As she so eloquently said at the end of her recital- from the heart to the heart. A beautifully atmospheric encore by Janacek that with this sentiment had much in common with Schubert .
How much we need that in these strange times that have befallen the world!
It was a recital from the beginning to the end like a great song.
A lyricism that denied any percussion or ugly viral sounds but created a warm hearted flow that drew us in to this intimate world that she wanted and needed to share with us.
After weeks without an audience having spent this unexpected lock down period we are told , cooking ,learning new repertoire and lots of washing up she was at last free to share her most intimate thoughts with us.
It was the same sound that I well remember her enchanting Vlado Perlemuter with at Dartington and he being so enthusiastic about her musicianly performance of the Epilogue of Ravel’s Valses Nobles as he was of her Chopin Mazukas .
That was in 1968 when the daughter of Martin Cooper ,the eminent critic of the DailyTelegraph and a musicologist whose book on French piano music is an absolute reference for students, had come from her Premier Prix in Paris.
Realising that Imogen had an exceptional musical talent her parents sent her at the age of 12 to Paris to study for six years at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique (CNSM) with Jacques Février, Yvonne Lefébure and Germaine Mounier. This was considered a provocative move by the music establishment, and there was a lengthy correspondence in The Times between Thomas Armstrong, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and Martin Cooper, arguing the pros and cons of taking a gifted child out of conventional education to specialise so early, and in a foreign country.
In 1967 at the age of 17, the CNSM awarded her a Premier Prix de Piano, a major distinction. Cooper was mentored in her late teens by Arthur Rubinstein and Clifford Curzon, and subsequently studied in Vienna with Alfred Brendel, Paul Badura-Skoda and Jörg Demus, particularly in her early twenties by Brendel, an experience that has resonated with her throughout her performing life.
She has dedicated her life to playing mostly the classical repertoire and in particular the works of Schubert .In fact she played just a few months ago at the Wigmore Hall the three last sonatas of Schubert to celebrate her 70th birthday.
She also has a foundation that is aimed at giving the same help to talented young musicians that she herself had received in her formative years.
It was a programme dedicated to Schubert and Beethoven as her colleague and fellow disciple of Alfred Brendel,Paul Lewis, had shared with us last week in this same series.
Paul Lewis’s programme was of fantasies and today a different type of fantasy with the German Dances of Schubert and the exquisite baubles of Beethoven op 119 before the most lyrical and profoundly simple of all Beethoven’s sonatas the penultimate op 110.
The 12 German Dances D.790 were played from the very first note to the last with an absolute lyricism.
Beautifully warm and delicate sounds but also robust dance rhythms within this framework.
They are the layers of sound that Brendel speaks so eloquently about .
Dances at times almost like the Mazurkas of Chopin and a final dance that finished on a cloud of mysterious gentle sounds.
It is very interesting to note that as pianists mature they seem to explore much more the subtle use of the pedals to hide the fact that this black box is just full of strings and hammers.
A well known difference of views between Artur Rubinstein and Igor Stravinsky.
Wilhelm.Kempff and Edwin Fischer were supreme examples of this much neglected art but it was Imogen today who reminded us of it today in her insistent quest for the human voice hidden within.
The eleven Bagatelles op 119 were indeed a collection full of gems.Each one was so clearly characterised from the sedate almost Schubertian opening to the pure and gentle lyricism of the 4th and 8th.
Beethoven’s humour shining through in the 5th and 6th and the great drive of the 9th .The all too short bars of the 10th led to the beauty of the final Andante ma non troppo.
The Sonata in A flat op 110 was given an authorative performance of great architectural shape and a musicianly understanding of the many indications that Beethoven marks in the score.
Con amabilità and molto espressivo he marks at the beginning as though he could hear so clearly in his mind the sounds that he was destined never to be able to hear himself in real life.
The transition from the Scherzo to the Adagio was on a waft of magic sounds.
The repeated notes in the Adagio.-the bebung- were so beautifully realised and the fugue too seemed to enter in this magic world without ruffling any waters.The imposing bass fugal entry was greatly measured and the ‘p’ and subtle countrapuntal colours before the crescendo leading to the ‘ff’ trill I have rarely heard so eloquently played.
The return of the Adagio was even more moving with Beethoven’s ‘heart beats’ allowed to pulsate so beautifully.The gradual disintigration of the final chords of the Adagio led so magically to the fugue in inversion that took us on a continual crescendo to the final  euphoric explosion.
This was a side of Beethoven that  lacked the jagged edges of the Allegro Molto of the Scherzo or the frenzy that Serkin used to bring to the final triumphant flourishes.
It was the world that Imogen obviously needed so much to share with us today and that we were so grateful to her and the Wigmore Hall for allowing us to eavesdrop on such beauty after being deprived for so long.

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