Thursday, July 14, 2016

Imogen Cooper's Chopin

Imogen Cooper’s Chopin

Polonaise No. 7 in A flat major, Op. 61 'Polonaise-fantaisie'
Two Nocturnes Op. 62
Fantasia in F minor, Op. 49
Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Nocturne No. 8 in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2
Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
Nocturne No. 16 in E flat major, Op. 55 No. 2
Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57

Imogen Cooper, piano
Chandos CD CHAN 10902

This disc represents Imogen Cooper’s first recorded foray into the music of Chopin. She is, of course, best known for her probing and often intense explorations of Schubert and Schumann. Somewhat disarmingly the liner notes contain a few paragraphs from the performer entitled ‘Why Chopin, why now?’ There she speaks of her “persistent feeling that Chopin is old-fashioned, difficult to program in this age of fabulous, exotic, and novel mixtures.” She goes on to ask (rhetorically): “Does this explain the feeling that a fresh personal discovery entails a considerable effort, an effort to delete the long accumulated data and reach for the suffering (and not always sympathetic, let us be honest) man and poet? To look at his language anew and not take a single note for granted?”

Cooper certainly casts a fresh eye. Her playing is refreshingly free of the clichés of Chopin interpretation, but the mention of suffering is telling. Cooper’s Chopin is unrelentingly melancholy. For many of us Chopin’s genius lies in his extraordinary versatility. He could write for the salon, for the dance floor, or for the confessional – sometimes for all three in the same piece. Cooper’s selection of pieces are all overwhelmingly introspective. There are no mazurkas, waltzes, or polonaises (the Polonaise-fantaise is really more of a fantaisie than a polonaise). The weight of the recital is taken by the first and fourth ballades and a selection of rather dark nocturnes. Each of the pieces played is an undisputed masterpiece, but the cumulative effect is to make Chopin sound rather one-dimensional.

Anybody who cares about Chopin will want to listen to this recording. Cooper is too important a pianist to miss, and her interpretations are certainly powerful. I suspect, though, that many will feel, as I did, that there is something missing here. Even in his darkest moments Chopin had a graceful lightness of touch. Imogen Cooper plumbs the depths, but leaves behind some of the most important things that are on the surface.

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