The special quality of this recital in the South Bank's International Piano Series was evident within seconds. All too many pianists peck pertly at the staccato opening of Haydn's late and great Sonata in C, H XVI/50. Yet by subtle touch and pedalling, Imogen Cooper was able, with no loss of incisiveness, to invest each note with a roundness and resonance that precluded any dryness.
This is a pianist of extraordinary range, with an ability to generate an almost overwhelming fullness and volume of sound, yet instantaneously to switch to the most veiled, pianissimo textures. But, beyond the virtuosity and thorough preparation she brings to recitals, one senses a generous spontaneity that enables her to capture and intensify every passing poetic moment, every shade of meaning between the notes, without loss of structural momentum.
All this was evident in the Haydn, from the enchanting music-box episode in the opening movement to her truly majestic unfolding of the ever-more florid lines of its Adagio.
Richer still in insights was her account of Schumann's Kreisleriana Op 15, that amazing half-hour of fantasy and inventiveness, teeming with original textures, particularly in the writing for left hand, that he dashed off in a mere four days of 1838. Here, one especially appreciated how, without drawing attention to the fact, Cooper never characterised the repeat passages the same way twice.
She opened her second half with a short piece she commissioned in 1996 from Thomas Adès. His Traced Overhead Op 15 comprises a typical study in slowly sinking harmonies, perhaps of more textural interest than substance, but fiendishly difficult to play (the score is laid out on up to six staves). After seemingly encompassing its every filigree frisson of decoration and layer of bright and dark, Cooper launched intently into the gaunt opening lengths of Schubert's Sonata in A, D845. But there was delight too in the more fanciful decorations of its second movement variations and a glimpse of paradise as she eased into the lovely trio section of the Scherzo.
Was there a hint behind the impeccable delivery of the finale that she was beginning to tire interpretatively at the end of so demanding a programme? The audience responded warmly to an artist they realised had given her all.
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