Review: Imogen Cooper, Ryedale Festival, Duncombe Park, July 26

FRIDAY night’s concert had all the ingredients expected of a successful Ryedale Festival event: an unusual venue, a beautiful room with a sell-out audience, interesting repertoire, and a first-rate musician.

Pianist Imogen Cooper started with Schubert, in many ways her international calling card. She brought to his late Piano Sonata in A the sort of authority for which she is justly renowned.

The opening was aptly somewhat gruff, the articulation artfully leavened with little touches of pedal; on its eventual return, the same passage was given a much richer treatment, lending added meaning to the austere stillness of the contrasting second theme. The cyclic—almost symphonic—element was clear, too, the affinities between the work’s first theme, the trio section of the scherzo, and its very ending deftly revealed.

Liszt’s idiomatic solo arrangement of the Gretchen movement from his Faust Symphony was here an affectionate, delicate character study. The little “he loves me, he loves me not” episode was delightfully bashful and innocent.

Highlights of Brahms’s late Fantasies Op. 116 included Cooper’s gentle steadfastness in No. 2, her sensitivity No. 4, and the marvellously voiced middle section of the last where the melody was kept absolutely seamless as it swapped between the hands.

The virtuosity required by the last page or so saw to it that the concert ended to well-deserved cheers. A thoughtfully chosen encore, the famous Waltz Op. 39 No. 15 being Brahms at his most Schubertian, brought this rewarding concert full circle.

Robert Gammon