Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concertos: No. 18; No. 22
Imogen Cooper (pn); Northern Sinf
AVIE AV2200 (66:20)
Both Imogen Cooper and her playing of Mozart need no introduction to regular readers of
Colin Clarke recently did a feature review with her regarding a new Schubert recording project in 33:6. Michael Ullman reviewed previously released discs of Mozart concertos in 30:5 (Nos. 9 and 23) and 32:1 (Nos. 24 and 25); the latter were also reviewed by Evan
Dickerson in 32:3. All the reviews were quite positive, though Ullman did not find that her performances were quite on the same level as classic accounts by Schnabel and Gieseking.
My reaction to this latest CD issue is very similar to that of Ullman, though I will accentuate the positive to a greater degree. For me at least, such comparisons have become more difficult to make because of the far-reaching changes that period-instrument performances have brought to our understanding and expectations of Mozart interpretation. For example, while the Northern Sinfonia plays on modern instruments, it employs minimal string vibrato and the woodwinds are more pungent, creating a leaner sonority that emphasizes rhythmic crispness and harmonic tartness over melodic warmth. There is also considerably less use of rubato for expressive effect. For those accustomed to, say, the fuller sound and romantic warmth of a Bruno Walter (a personal touchstone in Mozart), any performance adopting or influenced by period practices risks sounding less expressive. In moving from one to the other, I personally must make a conscious effort to adjust my aesthetic expectations and look for the type of interpretive expressiveness apropos of the performance style in question.
On their own grounds, these performances succeed quite well indeed. Led by first violinist Bradley Creswick, the conductorless Northern Sinfonia plays with exemplary ensemble and balance. Cooper is about as elegant a Mozartian as one could want; her touch is delicate and crystalline, her runs fluent and seamless, and she makes very sparing use of the pedal. Interpretively she stresses the graceful elements of the music, but is by no means superficial or slighting of those moments requiring more gravitas. If the slow movement of K 482 does not have the sheer weight and darkness brought to it by, say, Barenboim in his classic EMI recording with the English Chamber Orchestra, it is still effective on its own terms. Above all, there is a relaxed, singing quality to her playing; even though the timings of the movements are virtually identical to those of several other performances with which I made comparisons, they have a more leisurely, almost playful feel to them, without seeming to drag in the slightest. The recorded sound is clear and not too closely miked, which adds a bit of warmth and takes the edge off the leaner string sound. My one complaint is that the booklet notes include gushy puff-piece overviews of Cooper and the Sinfonia of the sort found in concert program brochures, at the expense of more substantive comments on the music. But those seeking recordings of Mozart piano concertos that reflect the best melding of modern instruments and period-performance practice can turn to this disc with complete confidence.
FANFARE: James A. Altena
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