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Schubert: Imogen Cooper (piano) Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 22.4.2009 (BBr)

Schubert: 16 German Dances, D783
Piano Sonata in G, D894
6 Moments Musicaux, D780
Piano Sonata in C minor, D958

Because of “passenger action” (what does that mean?) on the London Underground I arrived late at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and thus missed the German Dances, but, as it turned out, this was a good thing:   I was immediately greeted with the sublime opening G major chord of the Sonata D894 – where all is right with the world and everything is sweetness and light. This is a Sonata which is deceptively easy going; the ease and beauty of the opening belies a turbulent underbelly and this is a tricky listen due to the ever changing moods of Schubert’s invention. The bucolic finale gives respite – surely this is one of Schubert’s happiest inspirations from his later years. It proved a foil to the violence of the following Sonata, the C minor, where violence, passion and angst fill the pages to abundance. Written in the final year of Schubert’s life I wonder if he knew that the inevitable was soon to happen to him.

What a pianist Imogen Cooper is, and what a fine Schubert player. There are no pianistic histrionics with her, she simply sits at the keyboard and plays, no throwing around of the hands, indeed, no excess movement at all, sitting stock still at the keyboard she delivers the music to us with an authority which is almost beyond belief. Playing from memory, thus allowing herself to think of nothing but the interpretive matter at hand, she displayed the widest dynamic range imaginable – from the merest whisper of a pianissimo to the loudest and earth rending fortissimo – in fact so quiet were some of her pianissimi that one had to strain to hear the music – and thus shares with us Schubert’s most private thoughts.

The delightful Moments Musicaux prepared us for the late work, delightful in their easy going way, yet still displaying some intriguing twists and turns of harmony and melody, which might not necessarily be expected from these lighter pieces.

This was magnificent pianism, deeply thoughtful, displaying years of intense study of the music and highlighting the lyrical content, for Schubert was nothing if not a lyrical composer, yet startling us with the violent, uncompromising, nature of so much of this tortured music.

A packed QEH quite rightly went wild at the end but there were no encores for after communing in such a personal and private world as Ms Cooper had shown us there was no need. We wanted more, we will, in time, have more. Ms Cooper will thrill us again and I am already looking forward to that.

BBC Radio 3 recorded the show for broadcast on 1 May. Don’t miss it.

Bob Briggs

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