Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis: A Wonderful Partnership

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Brahms, Dvořák:  Imogen Cooper, Paul Lewis (pianos). Wigmore Hall, London, 13.12.2012 (CC)

Schubert: Allegro in A minor, D947, “Lebenstürme”
Andantino varié in B minor, D823/2.
Sonata in C, D812, “Grand Duo”
Brahms: Hungarian Dances: No. 6; No. 7; No. 11
Dvořák:  Slavonic Dances: Op. 72/2 in E minor; Op. 46/8 in G minor

Two of the UK’s finest pianists joined in sublime chamber music is a mouth-watering prospect. Both exceptionally musical, both incapable of extracting an ugly sound from a piano and both, incidentally, with strong links to Alfred Brendel. The Wigmore was, perhaps predictably, stuffed to the rafters – Cooper in particular is a favourite with Wigmore audiences. Two Steinway grands on the Wigmore stage is an imposing sight: Cooper took primo throughout.

The Schubert A minor Allegro that opened set out the stall, its forceful opening confident but not aggressive – the notorious Wigmore acoustic was perfectly judged. Textures were beautifully, and always intelligently, balanced, as was to be the case throughout the evening. What’s more, Cooper and Lewis found an uneasy undercurrent in D947 that seemed entirely apposite. Balancing this, Lewis provided an exquisite bed of sound over which Cooper scattered pearls of notes.

Separating D947 from the Andantino varié was a trio of Brahms Hungarian Dances. There was swagger to No. 7, a marked doloroso tinge to No. 11 and proper gypsy agogics to No. 6. The return to the reflective aspect of Schubert was palpable as the theme of the Andantino varié, restrained, yet full of potential, issued out – there are subtle twists that promise much. Cooper and Lewis delivered an account of much beauty, from the fanfare-like figures to liquid runs. Part of the joy of their performances is that they operate interpretatively as one, something evident also in the pair of Dvořák Slavonic Dances. I wouldn’t have thought that Cooper would have been able to “do” slinky, but that’s the only word for the famous E minor; the effervescent G minor was a source of constant delight.

There was just one piece in the second half: the Schubert Grand Duo, an intriguing piece that needs interpreters of this stature to do it justice. The shadings of the first movement development section were particularly memorable, as were the terraced dynamics of the Andante. Memorable also were that movement’s deconstructive, fragmentary passages and the heavenly cloud of sound that emerged during the course of the third movement. Drama, promised by the bare octaves of the finale’s opening, was fully realised – again, disembodied textures added a real sense of depth to the emotional experience.

A wonderful, memorable evening – there was no encore, by the way. A great, heart-warming way to lead us into the Festive Season proper.

Colin Clarke