Concert Review: Imogen Cooper Plays Schubert, Schumann and Brahms


In her own words, “Schumann and Schubert are central contenders for my heart”, and thus it was that these composers formed the core of the programme which pianist Imogen Cooper CBE, performed during her present tour for Music Viva.

Speaking before the second half of her concert in Sydney this week, Cooper observed that whilst curating a programme is “a fascinating part of performing”, it is now a harder task than before, with the advent of the internet and the fall of the Iron Curtain opening up so many more choices. 

This evening however, Cooper stayed with the triumvirate of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, with references to others in their inner circle, opening the concert with the second Novellete of Schumann’s opus 21.  It was Schumann himself who coined this term, named after the singer Clara Novello.

Then followed Schumann’s autobiographical  Davidsbündlertänze op.6. Inspired by the formalisation of his engagement to Clara Wieck, and quoting from her writing. The many moods and technical demands of its 18 ‘characteristic pieces’ were an ample showcase for Cooper’s virtuosity.  

Admitting that “the challenge of the pianist is not to sound like a pianist”, Cooper “transform(ed) herself into a string sextet”, in the second half of the programme with another dedication to Clara Wieck, now Clara Schumann – the Theme and Variations in D minor, arranged by Brahms himself for piano solo for Clara to play. Brahms presented the manuscript to Clara on her 41st birthday in 1860. Clara, apparently delighted with the gift, performed its public premiere in 1865. Cooper performed her own adaptation of this, replacing some harmonic elements that Brahms removed.

Finally, the dramatic Piano Sonata no 21 in B flat major, D960, Schubert’s last. Cooper recently completed a cycle of Schubert’s solo works at the Wigmore Hall; and in her second appearance at the 2013 Proms, she performed a Schubert recital in the Royal Albert Hall. Not surprisingly she also chose Schubert for her inevitable encore – the Allegretto in C minor.

There is a great deal to be said for a programme that focuses on a few composers who are ‘irresistibly linked” , in Cooper’s words. It allows a complete immersion in the aesthetic of that time, as expressed by three different masters. The recital was like an intimate evening with the pianist and her instrument. Cooper conveys an aura of tremendous serenity, which infuses her brilliant and sensitive playing. There was a sense that we had just heard one of the great pianists of  our time. 

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Imogen Cooper reprises this programme for Music Viva at the City Recital Hall on Saturday 23rd August at 2 pm. Anna Goldsworthy hosts a meeting with the pianist after the concert, which will be broadcast live on ABC Classic FM.

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