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Seen and Heard Recital Review

R. Strauss, Schoenberg, Gribbin, Chopin. Imogen Cooper (piano), Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, February 7th 2005 (CC)


Imogen Cooper’s recitals rarely fail to stimulate and, often, delight. This was no exception. Perhaps what made this one stand out, though, was the sheer mastery of programming. No mere shoving together of pieces here.


The first surprise was an arrangement of Waltzes from Rosenkavalier by Otto Singer (who actually arranged all the Strauss operas for voice(s)-and-piano). The main material plundered is Ochs’ ‘Mit mir’ in a pot-pourri that Cooper presented, frequently teasingly, as great fun. But it was the concept of taking something and decorating or transforming it that was to define the recital.


The contemporary work in the programme was Deirdre Gribbin’s Decorated Skin. Taking the idea of decorating the skin in terms of body art, the composer states that, ‘The music is a labyrinth of hidden symbols.’ As so often, the realisation is not as exciting as the germinating idea. Influenced by minimalism, couched in a nondescript harmonic language, Gribbin piled empty gesture upon empty cliché. Perhaps the Strauss/Singer was decorated skin (the skin being the original Rosenkavalier).


A shame her piece came after a masterwork of the early twentieth-century, Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces. Cooper seemed remarkably at home, inviting the audience to share in these half-breathed intimacies, shocking her listeners with the Schoenbergian ejaculations and raising eyebrows by highlighting compositional twists. The final piece, a tribute to Mahler, was unutterably desolate.


Another ‘decorated skin’ could Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie, a darkly deconstructed ghost of a Polonaise. Cooper rightly saw no trace of mere ‘decoration’ in Chopin’s ‘ornaments.’ Even these gestures were reinterpreted and given more due than usual, just as the work elevated the ‘mere’ Polonaise into a higher form entirely. Two Nocturnes (Op. 62, Chopin’s last) preceded the Polonaise-Fantaisie and were given in the most gorgeous of fashions – trills to die for in the first, and a simply beautiful exposition of Chopin’s advanced harmonies in the second. Simply superb.


Colin Clarke


 

 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)