Imogen Cooper at the Wigmore Hall
It is by strange coincidence that I am going to the National Gallery Lunchtime Piano recital for the festival Swords and Ploughshares where Dame Myra Hess will be remembered for her memorable wartime recitals.
A coincidence because it is Myra Hess that springs to mind when one listens to Imogen Cooper.
All the same values of integrity and musicianship allied to a simplicity that allows the music to speak so naturally.
In this era where virtuosity or fingerfertigkeit seems to draw in the crowds it is refreshing to hear two great English pianists Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis where their virtuosity is hidden,steeped in musical understanding.
A virtuosity that by searching for a real musical meaning they have found sounds that very rarely we hear in the more bombastic recitals that today are prevalent.
Both from the school of Alfred Brendel and in the case of Imogen also Clifford Curzon.
I remember a young student playing in Vlado Perlemuter’s class in Dartington in 1968.Where most of us in the class were concerned with playing the more technically difficult works of Chopin and Ravel this young girl played Valses Nobles e Sentimentales with such mature poise and musicianship that Perlemuter himself declared that he had nothing to add.
She was the daughter of that great critic Martin Cooper whose book on French Music together with the Classical Style of Rosen have become a standard work for students.
She was studying in Paris with Yvonne Lefebure and much to Perlemuter’s surprise spoke perfect french.
No Chopin studies for her but a mazuka played with such intelligence and musicianship that I remember Perlemuter being amazed not only by her musicianship but by her perfect french accent.
Not following the usual competition circuit but instead seeking out help for a better musical understanding from the greatest musicians of our time.
As she herself says she is indebted to Alfred Brendel,Arthur Rubinstein,The Amadeus Quartet and Clifford Curzon who have helped her to understand the very meaning of music.
Now fifty years on and with a great devoted following she has created a Trust to help other young musicians to give them the very things that she realises were so important to her formation.
As she says :”they must possess only three things :talent,potential and a deep thirst for improvement”.
Her sincere wish:”is to help them in their aspirations”
I see from the first information sheet of her Trust the fotos of Mishka MomenRushdie,Samson Tsoy and Pavel Kolesnikov.
Three young pianists well known for their musical ideals.
It was refreshing too to see Pavel ,a Young Generation Artist and student of Norma Fisher, in the audience tonight standing at the back no doubt determined not to miss the extraordinary performance of Beethoven’s mammoth Diabelli Variations.
It was her mentor Alfred Brendel that remains in my memory together with Rudolf Serkin of the Diabelli variations many years ago at the RFH in London.
One of Beethoven’s last great works for piano and a real tour de force not only of stamina and a true command of the keyboard but above all of musicianship.
Richter was announced to play it in London but changed the programme at the last minute obviously realising that there could be no half measures with a work of such stature.
We were lucky all those that travelled down to Brighton to hear his extraordinary interpretation.
He realised that it is not the sort of work that can be played on tour day after day but can only be played on very special occasions.
And so it was tonight with a performance that even Imogen’s great poise gave way to great flamboyance and much more physical participation than usual.
Playing with the score though did not allow the frenzy and almost animal like attack of Serkin that caught you by the throat.
It was an unforgettable experience where he and all the audience came out dripping and totally exhausted at the end.
Brendel’s nervous energy allied to a great musical intellect too was just as memorable.
Tonight we were treated to a less frenetic performance but one of great rhythmic drive. The great trills being thrown around the piano like a great tennis star would hit the ball over the net.
Even Imogen had to let her hair down for the great fugato and although it lost something of its dance character and became rather too martellato it was a great contrast to the sublime colours and buoyancy that she had found in the previous variations.
The final so reminiscent of op 111 was played with such magic that the final chord was greeted by minutes of silence before erupting in an ovation from this very appreciative audience.
From the very first notes the little waltz by Diabelli was given such character that was later dissected and put under Beethoven’s genial microscope.
Scrupulous attention to detail and a sense of orchestral colour were the hallmarks of this remarkable performance.
Courage is now needed to throw away the score and allow a more total animal like commitment.
It is indeed a savage work from a composer angry that he could no longer hear his work.
The concert had opened with the Beethoven Bagatelles op 119 .
Eleven jewels made to sparkle and shine in a way that brought laughter and tears to these miniature tone poems.
A wondrous sense of colour and real understanding of their character with an immediately apparent luminosity of sound.
From the music box sonorities to the absolute legato and sense of balance that I have only heard from Kempff.
Great Beethovenian energy allied to the charming scherzando of n.6 that brought a smile to our cheeks.
The final was almost Schumanesque in its sumptuousness.
Each one spoke with such an expressive voice it was so refreshing to hear the variety of sounds that she was able to conjure up in her effort to allow Beethoven to converse with his audience.
It was the same conversation that she treated us too with Schoenbergs 6 little pieces op 11 that followed.
The sheer desolation of the first followed by the complete isolation of the second was complimented by the massive sonorities of the third .The final dissolving into nothing that left the door open for the more down to earth Mr Haydn.
Without a break we were brought back into the real world again with a Haydn of great contrasts.
The rather mundane opening made the magical music box sounds even more startling.
The slow movement was laid before us like a great opera singer arriving on the platform with the the melodic line so operatic in its very refined way.
The impish good humour of the finale was shaped with such tonal finesse and brought the first half to a very good humoured close.
A concert in which we had been treated to a real music journey where the little bagatelles op 119 had been so integrated almost as a continuation into the sound world of Schoenberg.
The Haydn sonata preparing us for the great journey in C that we were about to embark on after the interval.
So refreshing to be reminded of the great musical values of the school of Matthay where the infinite gradations of tone can be found by those that seek it .
From this box of hammers and strings a true magician can allow the music to speak as well as any orchestra or singer.
A real lesson and “Hats off “to Imogen that via her Trust will share her secret with talented young musicians in search of a voice of their own.