Cooper's recital is one for the ages

Review Concert


Victoria Concert Hall/Last Thursday

This year's Singapore International Piano Festival opened with the most recognised name on the list of distinguished pianists, Imogen Cooper, the English pianist whose career continues on an upward trajectory even though she has been active on the concert stage for more then four decades.

The opening pieces in each half of the programme were almost like hors d'oeuvre to the more substantial works to follow. This is not to undermine their artistic merit in the slightest, and Cooper performed each with the utmost delicacy and attention to detail.

In Chopin's Barcarolle, Op. 60, named after the Venetian gondolier's serenade, her playing transported listeners to the gentle waters of Venice, with the rhythmic bass reminiscent of the bobbing of waves. It was parlour music, but played most gracefully, delivered with ample rubato, yet without over sentimentalisation.

Schumann's Humoreske, Op. 20, with its myriad contrasting themes with full conviction, was performed with tremendous dexterity.

Cooper's ability to switch instantly from Schumann's imaginary Florestan (passionate) to Eusibius (introspective) characters made this a performance to savour. Unlike lesser pianists who might have been tempted to overtly flaunt their virtuosity in the more frenetic passages, Cooper's poise and authority were much more satisfying musically. Her attention to phrasing and dynamics were astounding, as was her voicing of parts, thanks to some effortless hand-crossing.

As in sections of the preceding Humoreske, the set of 12 German dances by Schubert that opened the second half was performed seamlessly, one dance after another. Once again, Cooper gave each dance a distinct character, beautifully nuancing the gentler fifth and eighth dances against the livelier and lyrical ones.

Schubert's Piano Sonata No. 20, the second of his last three piano sonatas, is highly individualistic, and Cooper brought out every ounce of this in the outer movements. Playing at more deliberate tempos than many contemporary recordings, there was deep pathos in her playing without any loss of pulse or drive in the music.

While the third movement scherzo was pure Schubertian delight - free and light as a feather - the highlight of the sonata was the achingly beautiful second movement, marked Andantino. Cooper's playing of its mournful theme surely brought out a fair share of tears in the audience, and the cadenza-like middle section was simply breathtaking.

This concert stands among the most memorable recitals at the Singapore International Piano Festival. There have been a fair share of technical or programming triumphs, but Cooper's stands out for her ability to take her audience into realms beyond the concert hall.

Although the audience could not coax an encore from the soloist, the excellent programme and Cooper's supreme musicianship made this concert complete and totally satisfying.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2015, with the headline 'Cooper's recital is one for the ages'. Print Edition | Subscribe