Schenectady

Music review: British pianist Imogen Cooper brings crowd to its feet at Union

Imogen Cooper. (Sim Canetty-Clarke)
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Imogen Cooper. (Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Acclaimed British pianist Imogen Cooper debuted on the Capital Region Classical at Union College series Sunday afternoon on her way to performing with the Cleveland Orchestra. She was filling in for Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz, who had canceled his U.S. tour.

Her concert was a resounding success. She was warmly welcomed by the crowd and offered them an interesting program heavily weighted with masterworks by Maurice Ravel and Franz Liszt.

Cooper began with Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A minor (1825). Considering that he had been suffering terribly the previous year that required hospitalization, this four movement work was full of life-affirming high energy, big chords, speedy technical runs and pretty melodies. Cooper put a robust tone and big forceful sound to most of the piece, pacing it with generous moments of silence. The crowd loved it and gave her an extra bow.

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That was all that was on the first half. The second half opened with Ravel’s Sonatine (1905). Cooper gave a more subtle tone to the three movements but despite the nicely arched phrases, her musicality had a kind of no-nonsense directness. There was a sense that she evoked the colors but didn’t delve too deeply into the layers. Tempos were good and the piece itself was a lovely contrast to the Schubert. Her technique in the third movement was especially fluent, frothy, even effervescent.

Even in Liszt’s “Les jeux d’eaux a las Villa d’Este” (Water Play at the Este Villa) (1877), Cooper stayed a bit cool, although her technique was brilliant and unforced to make the music shimmer and surge.

But in Ravel’s “Jeux d’eaux” (1901) something shifted in Cooper’s involvement. Her playing was exceptional. She got inside the music to make it sing with more sensuality, more layered dynamics and sensibility. Her wonderful technique in the waterfalls of notes was ravishing.

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The next work by Ravel, “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (1911) with its eight short sections was outstanding. The wonderful rubato through the many waltz tempos, the coaxed nuances, the subtle dynamic levels, and the sensibility of a blurred sunlight with shadow were marvelous.

Cooper finished up with Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A minor” (1847). Dark and romantic at first with the Romani gypsy flavor followed by a feverish swirl of a dance with lots of rubato and unexpected changes of touch and dynamics brought the crowd to its feet with a rousing applause.

Next up on the series this coming Sunday is the Ebene Quartet from Paris followed by British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor on Sunday, April 3.

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