Imogen Cooper: Iberia y Francia
Imogen Cooper has been travelling and she’d like us to come along. For an artist whose name is frequently associated with Schubert and Schumann, it is worth remembering that Cooper spent her formative years at the Paris Conservatoire and is just about as steeped in French culture as it is possible for a non-native to be. Appropriately enough, her invitation au voyage in this case is Ravel’s Pavane in a performance of insouciant simplicity, guileless and wistfully serene. Any stragglers are beckoned aboard in the morning light with an animated ‘Alborada del gracioso’, less hard-edged than is customary, filled with dancing, rich colours and rhetorical flair. Falla’s homage to Debussy straddles the Pyrenees, tapas whetting the appetite for dishes further south.
But first we’ll linger a while with Debussy himself, who never made more than a day trip into Spain. Debussy’s imagined Iberia, fed by the Parisian evocations of Massenet, Bizet and Charbrier and, more directly, by his friends Albéniz and Falla, stokes our anticipation. Listening to ‘La soirée dans Grenade’, ‘La puerta del vino’, ‘La sérénade interrompue’ and, later in the programme, L’isle joyeuse, it is difficult to imagine Debussy-playing more personal, suggestive or voluptuous. Cooper has lived with this music long and well. Tempting as it might be to declare these thoroughly individual interpretations the highlight of the album, Albéniz is yet to come.
When an artist seems to reign supreme in a particular repertory, as indeed Alicia de Laroccha did in Albéniz for most of my lifetime, alternative points of view can strike as pedestrian. Not here: Cooper gives us an Albéniz entirely her own, all the more vivid perhaps for its vantage from the outside looking in. Piquant, understated, with a sultry heat that smoulders rather than bursting into flame, these are compelling performances informed by the palette of Goya and undergirded with an inerrantly zesty rhythmic élan. An evening stroll through the Arab Quarter of Granada in ‘El Albaicín’ feels a little dangerous and very sexy. The clattering castanets and strumming guitars of ‘El puerto’ gradually give way to the approaching Corpus Christi procession in Seville, teeming with the faithful and a religious fervour only a few degrees from madness. In these selections from Iberia, as well as in ‘Rumores de la caleta’ from the earlier Recuerdos de viaje, for every secret divulged, others remain mysteries. Cooling transition on the return voyage is entrusted to the subtleties of Mompou, whose mother, we recall, was French.
For some bottom-line terrific piano playing and programming that inflames the imagination, I suggest you set your internal default to luxe, calme et volupté and prepare for departure. A wonderful journey awaits.