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Beethoven: Imogen Cooper (piano); Britten Sinfonia. QEH, Monday October 2nd, 2006 (CC)


Imogen Cooper is one of the most musical pianists before the public today. Her appearances at the Wigmore Hall, in Schubert especially, have been memorable occasions. To hear her in the first two Beethoven Concertos was a fascinating experience, too. I am not sure that it would be correct to describe Cooper as ‘piano/director’ though. Despite a lot of swaying in the direction of the orchestra, the actual nitty-gritty of ensemble seemed to be handled by the Britten Sinfonia’s leader, Jacqueline Shave. And very well Shave did, too (the orchestra’s post-cadenza re-entrances were always going to be tricky and were, as it turned out, impressively managed). The piano was placed sideways to the orchestra, not facing it as many pianists who indulge in conductorless concertos prefer.


Cooper’s phrasing in the ‘First’ concerto (the second to be written) was frequently a thing of beauty. Her sfs bit, but were never harsh and there was a chamber feel in the woodwind exchanges. She opted for the long third cadenza (the close of which strangely lacked direction – listen to Pollini/Jochum for some uncharacteristic wit here!). Her slow movement was a dream (rightly, she waited for silence before beginning) although the right-hand did feel overly projected at times; a shame the violins did not have enough tonal depth, too. A finale imbued with real spirit and a sense of fun was a joy.


The Britten Sinfonia has some real strengths. Clearly it thinks along chamber-music lines and some of the instrumentalists are outstanding (particularly the oboist Nicolas Daniel, who some may remember from BBC’s Young Musician of the Year some years back).It was an intriguing idea to put the Rondino for Wind (written around 1792) in between the two concertos. Not an easy piece, this, particularly for the horns (the second horn, to be accurate, who was rather stretched in this performance). There is an outdoor feel to his music that the players projected well.


Finally, the bright-and-breezy Second Concerto. The enthusiasm of the orchestra was for overdrive in the orchestral exposition. Full of vim, it seemed an intriguing mix of Mozart and Beethoven as if intent on revealing Beethoven’s roots. Interestingly, Cooper’s right-hand projection was now perfectly judged, especially in the bold, imitative beginning to the cadenza. . But it was the Adagio that was the highlight. Cooper’s tone was quite simply gorgeous, while the orchestra was unexpectedly passionate in fortes. Holding the silence before launching into the finale threw the last movement’s hustle and bustle into real relief. There was no trace of awkwardness in Cooper’s articulation (no easy feat), plus there was an underbelly of fire to the music’s surface play. A wonderful reminder of just how special a pianist Imogen Cooper is.


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)