Schubert Live, Vol 2
An innate prejudice against single-composer recitals (concert or studio) made my heart sink when these discs arrived. I like to have some variation of taste and texture when I listen, as much as when I eat. True, Imogen Cooper’s name on the cover made spirits and expectations rise. In the event, my preconception was utterly confounded. These two CDs contain some of the most wonderful Schubert-playing I have ever heard. For their duration, not only does she not put a foot (or rather finger) wrong, but Cooper held me spellbound, as much as the audiences in the Queen Elizabeth Hall clearly were. Mercifully unobtrusive and cough-free, they reward her with generous and well earned applause. They know they have been present at a very special recital. The sound, too, is exemplary (a BBC Radio 3 recording by Adam Gatehouse and Neil Pemberton).
Imogen Cooper writes in the booklet of her love of Lieder, “and I remain convinced,” she says, “that Schubert’s love for the voice – the instrument inside the body – and for poetry, have affected all of his great music, not least the big piano works of 1823-28”. And one thing Cooper can do is make the piano sing, whether it be the lovely third subject of the G major’s second movement floated over rippling 32nd-notes, the molto espressivo dolente melody at 4'25" in the final Allegretto or the lullaby opening of the second (A flat) Moment musical. Songs without words. Colours are gracefully shaded, dynamics are artfully controlled and contained; there are no intrusive idiosyncrasies (à la Richter, say) to detract from the enchantment. In the tarantella finale of the great C minor Sonata which, in some hands, can become relentless and outstay its welcome, Cooper somehow leaves you wanting more. The heartbreaking theme of the F minor Moment musical (No 5) is allowed to speak for itself without the addition of over-egged sentiment. Perhaps above all, there is throughout a serenity and poise to the playing which is pure balm for the soul. Here is a great artist of taste and integrity.