Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available: Schubert Live Vol 2 / Imogen Cooper and Schubert Live Vol 3 / Imogen Cooper
Piano Sonatas: in a,
Imogen Cooper (pn)
2156 (2 CDs: 148:21) Live: London 4/15/2008;
This first volume of Schubert’s piano music recorded live in the Southbank Centre in London sets a very high benchmark. Imogen Cooper is that rare creature, a pianist who is first and foremost a sensitive musician of uncommon ability—and more than that, an instinctive Schubert-player. Her textual fidelity equals that of the greatest modern Schubert pioneer, Artur Schnabel; and like Schnabel, her feeling for tempos and phrasing illustrates a sensibility to the Schubert idiom that is wonderfully satisfying. Much of this can be attributed to her experience playing Lieder: she regularly partners the great Austrian singer Wolfgang Holzmair, and they have recorded all the Schubert song cycles. In an explanatory note in the booklet, she talks about the “passion” of her early encounters with Schubert, which came about through Lieder, and of her belief that the composer’s love for the voice—“the instrument inside the body”—and for poetry as well, affected all his great music. There is nothing in the booklet notes about further recordings, but the “Volume 1” CD designation indicates that this is just the beginning of a series of Schubert piano recitals at the Southbank Centre that will be recorded live in concert.
This volume comprises music composed in the final stage of Schubert’s period of great flowering, from 1823 until his death in 1828. Each of the three sonatas has extraordinary music in it: the Sonata in A Minor, with its poignant first movement and its whirlwind finale; the D Major, with the martial character of its opening movement, passionate slow movement, Hungarian-influenced Scherzo, and lighthearted, bucolic last movement; and finally, the “great” A Major from the final trilogy of Schubert’s sonata output. For contrast, there are the
short dances in duple meter, each in a different key; they are not linked in any obvious way, but played as a group without pause, they make a persuasive set. There are not a great many recordings of these dances (one by the pianist Michael Endres on the Capriccio label has long been a favorite). His playing is somewhat more flexible rhythmically, more unbuttoned than is Cooper’s.
What is apparent throughout this CD is the nuanced expressiveness in Cooper’s playing—small touches that emphasize Schubert’s piercing harmonic changes, subtle changes in color, and flexible rubato. While not completely note perfect (who cares?), her technical accuracy is highly impressive. Cooper’s refined manner, her genteel approach to the keyboard, is directly at odds with that of her teacher, Alfred Brendel, whom she credits as an important influence in her studies. Fortunately, she did not adopt his way of playing Schubert, with his aggressive and heavy-handed touch and little show of empathy for the composer’s essential lyricism.
Coming on the heels of Diane Walsh’s stunning Schubert sonata disc (reviewed in
32:5), and in view of outstanding recent performances on CD by several young artists (e.g., Martin Helmchen, Gottlieb Wallisch, Michael Endres), we have suddenly become rich in stylish Schubert interpreters.
FANFARE: Susan Kagan
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