Mini master­works make a big im­pact

Imo­gen Cooper’s Beethoven is sen­si­tive and full of joy, says Michael Church

BBC Music Magazine - - Reviews -

Beethoven

11 Ba­gatelles; 33 Vari­a­tions on a Waltz by Di­a­belli;

Für Elise

Imo­gen Cooper (pi­ano)

Chan­dos CHAN 20085 78:32 mins

Look at the au­to­graph man­u­script for Beethoven’s Di­a­belli Vari­a­tions and you will see, vis­ually re­flected, all the emo­tions he ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing its com­po­si­tion. Some are writ­ten out in a calm, al­most cal­li­graphic hand, while oth­ers are cov­ered in fran­tic cross­ings-out; when he came to Vari­a­tion 32 he clearly knocked over his ink bot­tle. And pi­anists bring their own emo­tions to bear. Imo­gen Cooper de­scribes the work as ‘a won­der­ful jour­ney… I am in­stantly in a good mood when prac­tis­ing or per­form­ing this piece’. And that is what over­whelm­ingly comes over in her su­perb record­ing.

The first few vari­a­tions are sweetly serene, taken at a gen­tle pace with a warm touch and min­i­mal ped­alling.

Cooper never goes for ef­fect per se: her goal is purely ex­pres­sive­ness

The grave e maestoso 14th has a re­strained beauty, and feels dream­ily air­borne; only with the im­pe­ri­ous open­ing trill of the 16th does the work catch fire, and it’s a while be­fore you re­alise that it in­hab­its the same sound­world as Op. 111, which was be­ing com­posed at the same time. Cooper wisely omits some of the re­peats, thus al­low­ing the shape of the work to emerge more sat­is­fy­ingly. Par­tic­u­lar plea­sures in­clude the hon­eyed sweet­ness of 24 which harks back to Bach, the limpid smooth­ness of the moto per­petuo in 25, and the translu­cency of sound in 26; from Vari­a­tion 29 to the end of the work it all segues like one long med­i­ta­tion. Cooper never goes for ef­fect per se: her goal is purely ex­pres­sive­ness.

Für Elise comes like a thought­ful coda; in the Op. 119 Ba­gatelles with which this record­ing be­gins, a ten­derly ru­mi­na­tive charm al­ter­nates with a rel­ish­ing of the sheer enigma of these tiny pi­ano mas­ter­pieces. PER­FOR­MANCE ★★★★★

RECORD­ING ★★★★★ Hear ex­tracts from this record­ing and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Mu­sic Mag­a­zine web­site at www.clas­si­cal-mu­sic.com

Mood mu­sic: Imo­gen Cooper re­ally en­joys this reper­toire

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