Imogen Cooper: A Sunny and Elegant Performance

Nélida Nassar   11.07.2016   

The British pianist Imogen Cooper is widely regarded as one of the finest interpreters of the Classical and Romantic repertoire. Internationally renowned for her virtuosity and lyricism she performed at the NEC’s Jordan Hall for the first time, returning to Boston after a 7-years absence thanks to the Celebrity Series. Born into a musical environment – her father is the prominent musicologist Martin Cooper — she displayed her talents early on. It is said that from the age of four she could reproduce at the piano music she had only heard!

She opened the evening with three selections from Leoš Janáček’s elegiac and impressionistic On the Overgrown Path, Book 1 (“The Virgin of Frydek,” “They chattered like swallows,” and “The little owl has not flown away!”) an incantation, or rather a meditative invitation to the audience to leave the outside world behind and become immersed in the program. Considered an incomparable interpreter of Robert Schumann, she followed with his Davidsbündlertänze (“Dances of the League of David”). She chose the composer’s second version of that score, preferring its greater focus, compactness and subtle coloristic effects; and she truly excelled in these 18 very short dances and vignettes, varying between one to four minutes. Schumann wrote them following Clara’s acceptance of his marriage proposal, and Cooper’s interpretation conveyed the feeling of euphoria the composer felt on that occasion: it was very fluid and light in texture, yet carefully detailed and nuanced. Her exceptional virtuosity allowed her to provide the momentum needed to produce a coherent and unified reading of these very diverse pieces. The experience and emotional wisdom that complement her prodigious virtuosity was evident throughout the evening. Cooper cultivates a poetic style which prizes gracefulness as much as dazzlingly and precise technique. While here gestures are rarely dramatic, she is capable of producing a surprisingly large, beautifully sculptured sound.

The second half of the program commenced with Manuel de Falla’s somber Homenaje (“Pour le Tombeau de Claude Debussy”) in memory of Claude Debussy. Cooper evoked with great elegance and sobriety the cyclical rhythm of the Habanera dance. Then, in two pieces by Debussy, Soirée dans Grenade and La Puerta del Vino, the pianist seemed to become more contemplative and serene. Moreover, her touch, both caressing and infinitely nuanced, was also well suited to the faster-paced passages in her four selections from Isaac Albéniz’s, Iberia, Book 3 and 1: El Albaicin, Evocación, El Puerto, and Fête Dieu à Séville, all of them full of the color and brilliant sunlight of Spain. While Debussy’s music was notable for its calmness and fluid motion, the pieces by Albeniz astonished by their hypnotic rhythms and bewitching harmonies. As an encore, Cooper ended the concert with the first of the Cançons i danses (“Songs and Dances”) by the Catalan composer Federic Mompou, a quietly shimmering, introspective, work, with vacillating ostinati bell-like sounds.

Cooper, who received an enthusiastic standing ovation, displays all the elements generally attributed to Chopin’s style – tone, color, legato phrasing, and a singing line, to which she adds her own signature: intervals of golden silence between the sections of a score (as in the Schumann), seemingly achieved by means of finger technique alone. Cooper gave us an intimate and transcendental concert, for which we must be grateful.

NEC’s students had the good fortune to attend a master class with the pianist the following day.