Review by Clinton White
It’s no wonder that Imogen Cooper is described as ‘a pianist of virtuosity and poetic poise’. Her concert for Musica Viva at Llewellyn Hall in Canberra on her birthday, 28 August, was that and much more.
Playing a program of Brahms, Schubert and Schumann – all composed in the Romantic period within 40 years of each other – Cooper’s lyrical, even singing, style used a vast canvass to paint a vivid picture of light and shade, brightness and solemnity, thunder and calm.
I couldn’t see her hands and, therefore, her playing technique, but the sound she produced showed consummate expression and control of the instrument and the music she was playing. Her interpretation fitted the musical style of the period perfectly. But more than that, it was as though she wanted to give every single note its own beauty, grace and charm.
Even though her hands were out of my view, I could see her feet and was intrigued and captivated by her extraordinarily intricate use of the sustain pedal. It was not simply a matter of up and down at the beginning and end of phrases – very likely how the music is marked – Cooper had that pedal working ten to the dozen, but in a most delicate manner, often feathering it such that the dampers barely rose above the strings. Individual notes, even in fast passages, were given just the right amount of sustain, yielding a clarity I had not heard before from any other pianist.
Imogen Cooper is also a person of gracious and gentle personality. Her on-stage presence was commanding and confident but not in any way arrogant, charming but not gushy. At the beginning of the second half she spoke to the audience in a most relaxed and engaging way about how the program was devised and the links between the works.
After the concert, her graciousness continued. In a Q&A session, anchored by Musica Viva artistic director and very fine Australian composer, Carl Vine, Cooper answered a range of questions from the sizable gathering with humour, candour and charm. And the local Musica Viva manager, Michael Sollis, in his usual innovative style, had a birthday cake ready for Cooper’s arrival, and prepared the gathering for a rousing “Happy Birthday to You”.
For me, this delicious concert by Imogen Cooper goes into the top five of the best of the many, many concerts I have attended over quite a few decades.