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…Le temps perdu…
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Valses nobles et sentimentales [16:21]
Sonatine [13:21]
Jeux d’eau [6:46]
Franz LISZT (1811-1885)
Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este (Années de pèlerinage III, S. 163 No 4) [8:39]
Hungarian Rhapsody No 13 in A minor [11:04]
Reminiscences de Lucia di Lammermoor [6:33]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Thème et variations [15:06]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Notturno (1904) [5:15]
Imogen Cooper (piano)
rec. 19–22 February 2021, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK
CHANDOS CHAN20235 [83:21]

Although the title of this disc evokes an association with Proust, there is a more immediate connection between the disparate pieces of the program. The repertoire represents a walk down memory lane for Imogen Cooper, who studied these compositions as a student in Paris and Vienna in the 1960s. While in the City of Light, Cooper worked with Jacques Février, a friend of Ravel, and also with Yvonne Léfébure, a one-time Cortot assistant and well-known pianist in her own right. Cooper’s notes muse on the disorienting effect of reviving works that have lain dormant for years, as well as the feelings involved in seeing the notations of her teachers in the margins of her scores. (One of her teachers wrote in the margins of a Ravel piece “Ravel m’a dit…”)

There is never any doubt that an Imogen Cooper disc will be an enjoyable listening experience. Cooper can always be trusted to play with musicality, technical security, and with a seriousness of purpose that can pay dividends in unexpected repertoire. On this album, that seriousness scores primarily in the Ravel Jeux d’eau and Fauré variations.

Instead of opening the floodgates, Cooper takes a leisurely approach to Ravel’s famous waterscape, focusing on details along the way that are often skimmed over by other pianists. This is one of the slowest performances of the piece on record, but the results are intriguing; every rhythm is absolutely clear, and each individual voice works through its contribution without ever being obscured by the sheer volume of notes. In short, this is a sort of musical X-ray of the piece. As such, some will enjoy it, but the performance will not be to all tastes. It should be noted that the dynamics throughout the piece are on the loud side; a wider range of soft colors might have helped to obscure the unconventional tempo.

The Fauré is a masterful performance. Cooper’s capacity for highlighting melodic lines while also pinpointing inner voices and bass lines that respond to the melodies is astonishing, and most welcome in this very complex piece. The technical difficulty of some of the variations often militates against a pianist’s ability to clarify the many musical strands, but Cooper handles it all with aplomb. As a result of her hard work, this rendition may attract listeners who previously haven’t found a path into this challenging music. The final variation is moving in its simplicity and understatement.

The two larger Ravel works unfortunately sound underpowered, without the propulsive energy that animates other pianists in this music. Tempi are not exaggeratedly slow, but the playing is careful, every note slotted meticulously into place. The weighty approach that provided a different perspective on Jeux d’eau here creates an impression of ponderousness, particularly in the Sonatine. The dynamic range is constricted, Cooper’s soft dynamics not being counter-balanced by powerful louder dynamics. Climaxes are played at the printed fortes and fortissimi, but heft and excitement is somehow lacking. The fault may lie in the engineering, which is a bit close.

The same issues are present in the Liszt pieces; we never get the electric frisson generated by Busoni or Kentner in the Hungarian Rhapsody, and the Lucia paraphrase is lovely without being the virtuoso thrill-fest we might expect. The fountains of the Villa d’Este trickle mildly, without any momentum to their spray.

Cooper’s overall approach is a gentle one that suits the music in places, but more bite is often required.

Richard Masters

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