Imogen Cooper’s Mozart Piano Concertos # 9 & 23 reviewed

Imogen Cooper’s Mozart Piano Concertos is listened to and reviewed by Howard Milstein.

Even though it is now well known that the woman in question was Louise-Victoire Jenamy, that remarkable breakthrough work K271 is still referred to as the Jeunehomme. But putting labels aside, Imogen Cooper’s powerfully projected, stylistically nuanced performance, captured in the Sage, Gateshead’s radiant acoustics, (from 2006) can hold its own even against such renowned contemporary renditions as Uchida, Brendel, and Schiff. Cooper never lets you forget that this concerto is one of the tremendous extremes, both within and between sections, with crystalline articulation and an exciting spectrum of color and dynamics.

My admiration for her vocal poetry in the “second subject” of the opening Allegro, powerfully directed passagework, and the intense sweep of the outstanding modulating sections near the start of the recapitulation was special pleasures. No doubt, Imogen Cooper is one of the great Mozart pianists in the tradition of Haskil, Hess, Uchida, and Perahia. There is a glorious tonal quality to these performances coupled with a secure technique along with outstanding live sound acoustics.

The phrasing throughout the performances sings which shows her experience as a partner in lieder recitals. Her embellishments are very musical within the classical Mozart style. The orchestra complements the musicality of the pianist.

These two ‘live’ performances of Mozart concertos follow on from her two acclaimed series’ of late Schubert sonatas where the second set differed from the first by being recorded ‘live’ as here.

Imogen Cooper seems to be a pianist who responds well to the idea of being recorded ‘live’. This is not as laid back as it may seem at first as preparations for the concert involve discussions and work with the principal members of the orchestra before the concert or recording to make sure that orchestral passages and phrasing dovetail well into the piano part.

Although she always achieves a balance between expressive rubato and an articulate sense for the long line, certain individuals might believe she lingers too long in the C minor Andantino. In the last, quasi-operatic recitatives, she produces a fresh melancholy bleakness, and she correctly identifies the cadenza as the movement’s emotional highlight. The Northern Sinfonia plays with sophistication and passion despite the odd moments of a messy ensemble.

Cooper responds to K488’s glowing, melancholy, and (in the Adagio) elegiac lyricism in the same way. Again, she retains an effective rhythmic flow while highlighting the music’s shifting moods and colors in a lively, supportive manner that lacks any trace of sentimentality.

After the brief A major episode’s serenading grace (beautifully rendered here), Adagio’s primary motif returns, and she deepens the piece’s sorrow with skillfully expressive embellishments. After this, the aerial finale retains an ideal balance between grace and animal spirits. Cooper and the Northern Sinfonia represent some of Mozart’s most deft, vibrant, and inquisitive compositions, and anyone who wants this particular combination will find Cooper and the Northern Sinfonia to be among the very best.


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