CD and Other Review

Review: Liszt & Wagner: Piano Works (Imogen Cooper)

In addition to masterful technique and sensitive lyricism, the English pianist Imogen Cooper is renowned for her impeccably considered and well-researched programmes, which eschew obvious choices. Her fifth recording for Chandos explores Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner, exact contemporaries with personalities, egos and intertwined personal lives more generally associated with dissolute rockers of a century later; despite often strained relations, they were friends and great mutual admirers. This album’s initial impetus was Cooper’s rediscovery of Zoltán Kocsis’ piano transcription of the Prelude to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, and the notion of playing it alongside Liszt’s transcription of the Liebestod, effectively, the beginning and end of the (five hour) opera. Particularly inspired is Cooper’s decision to include, as a bridge between these two abysses, Liszt’s La Lugubre Gondola, written after a premonition that Wagner would die in Venice and his body would be borne along the Grand Canal, which did in fact happen. Also included are four of Liszt’s Italian Années de Pèlerinage, and his extraordinary transcription of Gretchen from his Faust Symphony, which glistens in Cooper’s hands. The liner notes by Dr Conor Farrington are erudite, learned and fascinating, as are the additional notes from Cooper herself. Zoltán Kocsis died…

May 19, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Kreisleriana; Brahms: Theme & Variations (Cooper)

  The two extremes of Schumann’s personality exist side by side in the two sets of pieces recorded here. The Fantasiestücke of 1837 alternate between the introverted, reflective Schumann (his Eusebius alter ego) and the extrovert, somewhat manic Schumann (Florestan). No wonder, as the sleeve note states, this was regarded as “difficult and private music”. In the eight Kreisleriana of the following year, Schumann juxtaposed these expressive extremes more blatantly, even chaotically. Pianists attempting these pieces not only require considerable fluency at the keyboard; they need to convey the sudden changes of attitude. When that is achieved, as it is here, the music springs to life and the work of Schumann’s contemporaries seems impersonal by comparison. As befitting a great chamber musician, Imogen Cooper’s strengths lie in the detail of her playing and a finely honed ability to separate important thematic material from accompaniment in thicker textures. While reflective moments are bewitchingly otherworldly in her hands, she finds power in the fast music without resorting to overemphasis (or, let’s be frank, bashing). Cooper is equally at home in the variations Brahms transcribed from his String Sextet Op 18, but the prize of this disc is the Schumann, where a distinguished…

July 10, 2013