Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Imogen Cooper @ Wigmore Hall, London

28 September 2009

The Imogen Cooper 60th Birthday Concert was more than just a concert. It was a party in which some of Cooper’s closest work colleagues, and indeed friends, joined her on stage to celebrate.

And it was a party to which the audience was also invited. With one exception, there were no solo piano works, with Cooper quipping that she didn’t want to have to work too hard!

Instead, she joined with singers, Mark Padmore and Wolfgang Holzmair, cellist, Sonia Wieder-Atherton, and fellow pianist, Paul Lewis, to perform pieces by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann and Janacek, as well as ‘extras’ by Strauss, Stoltz and Brahms not listed in the programme.

The music was chosen by Cooper who stated that she simply picked pieces she liked. If this is so, then she clearly has impeccable taste, and whilst many of them were playful allowing the performers to have some fun, all of them required the exploration of a wide range of emotions.

For example, as Padmore contemplated the stars in Schubert’s Abendstern and Die Sterne, there was melancholy in his voice as he sang of how it was in their power to bring love to him. His performance of An die Laute, in contrast, had just a slightly comic edge as he prayed for his lute to be heard by his love but not his neighbours! Similarly, Holzmair took Robert Schumann’s Lieder aus dem Schenkenbuch im Divan I & II and, displaying his considerable acting skills, played these songs about enjoying wine up for all their worth. The humour that he injected into his performances, however, was never inappropriate, and his delivery of Schubert’s Auf dem Strom was highly emotive.

Cooper was joined by Wieder-Atherton for Janacek’s Pohadka Nos. 1 – 3 and Robert Schumann’s Stucke im Volkston Op. 102. These required the cello to be haunting, piercing and vibrant in turn, whilst Cooper delivered some beautifully firm, but also lyrical and rippling, playing.

But it was when she was joined by Paul Lewis for Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor for piano duet D940 that her performance captured the essence of what this evening was all about. Despite the frequent flurries and moments of tension in this multi-layered affair, it possessed a great reflective quality that seemed to encapsulate the sixty years of Cooper’s life, the contribution of Lewis symbolising all of the musical relationships she has established over that time.

Some may have preferred to have heard more individual performances from Cooper, but this would be to miss the point that it requires just as much skill to carry off collaborative efforts when coordination on so many levels is required, as it does to deliver dazzling solos. This evening was a fitting way to acknowledge this momentous occasion in Imogen Cooper’s life, and all of us at musicOMH join in wishing her a very happy 60th birthday.

MusicOMH readers will also have the chance to join the party when the Imogen Cooper 60th Birthday Concert is broadcast on Radio 3 on a future occasion (unspecified at the time of writing).

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More on Imogen Cooper
Imogen Cooper review – a recital of the highest order at the Nevill Holt Festival
PCM 1: Mark Padmore and Imogen Cooper @ Cadogan Hall, London
Imogen Cooper @ Wigmore Hall, London