To the best of my knowledge,
Imogen Cooper has come only recently
to directing as well as playing concertos.
last year I heard her at the QEH with
the Northern Sinfonia in Beethoven –
her playing was as fresh and spontaneous
as always. Here she is, on record, in
Mozart, a composer clearly very close
to her heart.
It is actually the
23rd concerto that we hear
first on the disc. The opening is very
serene, very unhurried, even slightly
Romantic in feel. Maybe one should really
start listening with K291 as K488 is
almost too comfortable. That said, there
are some nicely sprung rhythms later
on and the cadenza is simply tremendous,
exhibiting real depth. Throughout there
is a chamber music feel to it all, the
give-and-take between piano and - in
particular - winds a joy. The famous
F sharp minor slow movement begins with
a piano rumination that had me in mind
of Daniel Barenboim's early version
of this work from his cycle of the 1960s
and 1970s with the English Chamber Orchestra.
Indeed, all credit to the Northern Sinfonia
for sustaining Cooper's intensity so
well and losing nothing to their more
southerly colleagues. Cooper adds decorations
to Mozart's large, bare intervals -
towards the end, around six minutes
in. The finale begins with Cooper opting
for a completely different touch, a
harder staccato that delineates the
territory immediately. Again there seems
to be very slight blurring from the
middle frequencies of the orchestra,
The so-called Jeunehomme
Concerto begins with Cooper rather surprisingly
indulging in unnecessary point-making
in her initial dialogue with the orchestra.
Just one misjudgement – an over-tenutoed
note on the orchestra around 1:28 in.
But with Cooper's pianistic re-entrance,
all is civility and expert balance.
Cooper even relaxes enough to give a
really cheeky end to the cadenza.
The middle Andantino
is peppered with moments of magic;
the finale contains large swathes of
superbly even passagework, scampering
around wonderfully. Perhaps Cooper milks
the Menuet that forms the centrepiece
of this finale rather, but one can still
revel in the beauty of her phrasing.
True, I still maintain much affection
for Cooper's mentor, Alfred Brendel,
in this piece - I refer to the earlier
ASMF recording now on a Philips twofer
- but Cooper's recording shall now ever
be at its side.
There is little doubt
that this disc will bring much joy.
The applause at the close of both concertos
is eminently deserved.