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'Mozart Unwrapped' - W. A. Mozart, J. S. Bach (arr. W. A. Mozart): Imogen Cooper (piano); Katharine Gowers (violin); Krystof Chorzelski (viola); Adrian Brendel (cello)., King's Place, London, 12. 3 2011 (KC)

Mozart: Piano Quartet no 1 in G minor K478;

Piano Quartet no 2 in E flat K493.

J. S. Bach (arr. W. A. Mozart): Adagio and Fugue in G minor K404a/2

Adagio and Fugue in F; K404a/4

Largo and Fugue in E flat K404a/5

Schnabel warned us, some sixty years ago: Mozart's notes are easy to play, but interpreting them is hard. Later commentators have been less demanding, opining that there are many ways of playing Mozart. This latter comment, be it noted, finds room for playing Mozart badly, mechanically, soullessly, over-romantically and over-classically. However, it also includes those who play Mozart adroitly, sensitively and with sublime artistry - and those gifted enough both to undergo the experience and catch the meaning. They are few - but Imogen Cooper is one such.

Her Mozart sings in a declaration of pretty much ceaseless melody and constant variety and surprise. Her long-standing familiarity with Mozart gives her the experience to introduce inflections that match the composer's own phrasing and poise with inspired appositeness. She knows exactly what she requires herself to do. She can bring a climax to an end with a clinching loudness and hardness - yet, when more appropriate, she'll finish with a slight, gently dying fall. For the most part, she rightly makes scale passages an integral part of the melody (how few pianists do this); but occasionally - and aptly - scales tumble past in empty-headed, cocksure bravura. She can turn the piano into a lone flute - pastoral, plaintive and wafting; yet, when necessary, she presents a stentorian tutti, as though a whole orchestra lay at her fingers' command.

Imogen Cooper's Mozart is one of the glories of the London musical scene. She is acclaimed, as are many others. She deserves even higher esteem.  Her companion players on this occasion - talented themselves - are of a younger generation. I envied them their close contact with this gifted, poetic elder, herself the pupil of Alfred Brendel, Jörg Demus and Paul Badura-Skoda. I hoped that something of the occasion stayed with them - that they felt the privilege of being party to such music-making, in touch with such antecedents.

Katharine Gowers made a shining impact immediately. Her sweeping command was stylish - in a confident display of the music's bravura. Yet, she, like Imogen Cooper, responded sensitively to Mozart's occasional displays of vulnerability. Krystof Chorzelski, given the viola's more retiring role, participated with well-judged care. These two played simply, strikingly, with minimum vibrato.

The Bach arrangements were for the strings only. Those in the major keys did not quite gel - Mozart's G minor arrangement was far more successful and arresting, catching the idiom with more assuredness. The absence of a piano part enabled the softer, mid-range tones of Krystof Chorzelski's viola to make their mark.

Adrian Brendel puzzled me. He opted for continuous, busy vibrato. At first, I thought his policy decision lay in a desire to ensure that long, sustained notes in a fairly minimal part stayed present in the music-making. Then, I realised that sustained bowing, with minimum vibrato would have had greater impact, giving a cleaner sound, equally capable of being sustained - and one that corresponded to the tones of the violin and viola. In fact, the assiduous vibrato softened the cello's sound, rendering the instrument even less audible than need be. This was an odd decision in what was otherwise a jewel in King's Places's 'Mozart Unwrapped' season.

Ken Carter


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