Royal Albert Hall
5 September 2013
Schubert's sonata played by Sviatoslav Richter, a more forceful interpretation than Cooper's.
70 minutes of sustained and profound lyricism, courtesy of Schubert.
Programming Schubert’s piano sonata in C minor (D958) followed by his ‘Grand’ piano duo in C major (D812) worked sublimely, for the reason given by pianist Imogen Cooper in the programme guide: the sonata creates a dark impression, which is then dispelled by the fairly upbeat, bright duo.
This composer must be almost synonymous with musicianship, a word that can otherwise be difficult to articulate. It is distinguished from technical skill, though usually is required alongside that skill, such as in the piano works of say, Beethoven or Chopin. This isn't really the case with Schubert.
The sonata, under Cooper’s hands, is projected lyrically, and I was forcefully struck with a sense of unending melody, not an unfolding in the way that for example, a Bellini aria unfolds, nor the working out of an argument as in Beethoven, but maybe closer to Wagner in the way that attention is maintained, though surely to a very different end result.
A beautiful and moving experience. Perhaps Cooper’s approach doesn’t bring out all of the dramatic potential of the work, as Richter does above. Her flowing approach also made her sound quite fast, and it is possible to make the sonata sound considerably slower and more intense. But this masterpiece benefits from multiple interpretive styles.
Cooper’s particular style made especially good sense given her programme. Had the sonata been a shattering experience, the duo would have seemed impertinent. Instead, the mood gradually lifted to one of celebration.
In Paul Lewis, Cooper must have found an ideal partner. Certainly they seemed of one mind, not to mention gesture. If the duo is a symphony in fancy dress, as some believe, I would think this performance was inadequate, for I couldn’t imagine it orchestrated. It seemed entirely suitable to the sound of the piano, right down to the chiming at the end of the piece.