Imogen Cooper, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London<br></br>Véronique Gens/Susan Manoff, Wigmore Hall, London

She shines brightest in times of spare beauty
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The Independent Culture

Outshone only by the stately contours of the E flat major Sonata, the C major Sonata's artful play between staccato and legato and wash of ambiguous harmonies comes as close to the 19th-century notion of pianism as any of Haydn's later works. Cooper's taut tempi, delicate dialogue between treble and bass, and smooth use of the pedal were delicious in the allegro, the adagio sang as gracefully as a languid Benedictus, the acciaccaturas of the allegro molto were deftly clipped, the spread chords bright and percussive.

In a programme otherwise careful in its juxtaposition of different styles, Kreisleriana stuck out like the kind of sore thumb whose owner is not the sort to bear pain silently. Haydn and Schumann have less in common than Schumann and Schubert, or Schubert and Haydn, or Adès and any of the aforementioned composers. Though dedicated to Chopin, Kreisleriana was largely inspired by Schumann's passion for his wife, Clara. She, apparently, was unimpressed, as even the least vain of women would be were she compared to this purple work. Cooper attempted to impress some order on to Schumann's wilder outbursts - delicately balancing the left hand octaves, neatly defining the brief flashes of stretto - but was overwhelmed by the volume of notes, over-reliant on the sustaining pedal, and seemed confident only in the spare beauty of the second movement. By the end of the piece, she appeared to share Clara's opinion of it.

Adès's Debussian play on water and light, Traced Overhead, which was written for Cooper in 1996, is a far cleverer work; giving the impression of heroism in its use of extreme pitch and silence while catering to Cooper's delicate hands and talent for stillness. The slow, almost baroque dance of the central movement flatters her sense of balance and nuance, and this was the most successful and developed performance of the evening. Had she replaced Kreisleriana with, say, one of Schubert's Impromptus, I dare say she would have had more stamina left for his A minor Sonata. By this time, however, she was visibly tired, and though her imagination was still strong through the lovely variations of the Andante, her tone had become harsh.

Like Strauss's Vier Letzte Lieder, Duparc's L'invitation au voyage has become inexplicably associated with big voices. But as Véronique Gens and Susan Manoff demonstrated in their Wigmore Hall recital of bel epoque chansons, the "luxe, calme, et volupté" refrain of Baudelaire's poem is every bit as beguiling when sung by a slender, soft-grained soprano as it is when sung by an Isolde-in-waiting. Though Gens's sustained notes are less secure when she approaches them from below than when she approaches them from above, this was a charming performance, most particularly in Fauré's ravishing setting of Verlaine's Green and Hahn's pastiche baroque aria A Chloris. Manoff, whose sound is clear and sweet, is the most exciting and eloquent accompanist I have heard since Andrew West. I look forward to hearing her play Schumann, though not, perhaps, Kreisleriana.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

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