Every pianist has the same eighty-eight keys and three pedals to work with, and yet there are a select few who can produce a sound that eludes the rest.
It is almost as if they can affect far more variables than the limited number of controls they have at their fingertips should rightly allow them to.
Imogen Cooper is one such person, and as she commands and demands, strokes and teases out, the precise sound that she wants at every turn, we cannot help but sit and listen captivated.
The last of Cooper’s series of concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall exploring Schubert’s late piano works, the evening included both the first and last of the eight major sonatas that he composed between 1823 and 1828. It also contained Schubert’s Zwlf Lndler D790, Op.171, and Four Impromptus D899, Op.90 of 1827. In the latter the changes of tempo were brilliantly and precisely managed to produce a beautifully controlled and measured sound. I particularly liked the way in which Cooper’s entire left hand frequently pounded down on the keys, the individual fingers upon it hardly appearing to move at all. In the Andante Cooper’s sound frequently entered different modes’ in keeping with the changes in tempo and tone, whilst the closing Allegretto felt wonderfully lyrical as each time a theme recurred it felt just that little bit more unrelenting.
But the highlight of the first half was undoubtedly Schubert’s Sonata in A minor D784, in which hauntingly reflective moments gave way to stronger rippling passages with a breathtaking sense of coherence and dramatic unease. Throughout, Cooper brought out to the full the contrasts between what her left and right hands were doing, her right hand producing some thrilling runs one minute, her left indulging in some creepily low notes the next. One particular highlight was witnessing her right hand producing some delicate light notes as her left pounded away to great effect.
Cooper has said of Schubert’s Sonata in B flat D960 of 1828 that it represents a state of mind that defies analysis, and so she proved after the interval. Suffice to say that listening to it was an intensely profound experience, and Cooper appeared emotionally drained by the end, although not so tired as to prevent her from performing a superlative and moving encore.
All this was naturally enough to make me glad that the concert was recorded both for a future broadcast on Radio 3, and for release on the AVIE label to form volume three of Imogen Cooper’s Schubert Live series.