Imogen Cooper, piano and director; Bradley Creswick, leader and co-director. Northern Sinfonia. Avie AV2200.
There is obviously no want of Mozart piano concerto recordings. But given the composer's continued popularity, can there ever be too many? This new one of the Piano Concertos Nos. 18 and 20 from British pianist Imogen Cooper and the British chamber orchestra the Northern Sinfonia makes a welcome addition to the field.
The program begins with the Piano Concerto No. 22, K482 (1785). Ms. Cooper, a virtuoso pianist, plays the opening movement (after a lengthy orchestral introduction) with vitality, to be sure, but with an exquisite eloquence, too. Never rushed, it nevertheless moves fleetingly along.
The middle-movement Andante is probably the work's most salient feature, if not its most famous, and the composer himself noted to his father that when he played it, audiences would often request him to play encores of it. Ms. Cooper emphasizes its combination of poetry, lyricism, and emotional intensity (and with a touch of the "Repeat" button, one can easily accommodate encores).
In the concluding Allegro Ms. Cooper takes its familiar little tune and makes it sound more relaxed and refined than playful or cute, with the orchestra participating almost as a soloist in itself. Incidentally, the booklet note explains that Mozart left no cadenzas for this piece, so Ms. Cooper uses those written for Paul Badura-Skoda. In any case, she plays with a strong, straightforward, unmannered style that makes the work sound fresher than usual.
Mozart wrote the Piano Concerto No. 18, K456, in 1784, apparently for the blind pianist and singer Maria Theresia von Paradis. It's scored more lightly than No. 22 and, consequently, appears more delicate and frothy. However, one should not take it too lightly, because as Ms. Cooper amply demonstrates, it contains some of the composer's more imaginative and felicitous writing.
As always from this source, the sound is exemplary in most ways, with excellent clarity and dynamics, wide stage dimensions, moderate depth, and a pleasant ambient bloom. Avie recorded it a little close yet without any distracting glare or edge. The piano is a tad too big for my liking, yet its tone seems pure and natural. Recorded November 9-11, 2009, in Hall One of The Sage Gateshead, England, the performances come off cleanly and realistically. Like the interpretations, the audio sounds cultured, cushy, and comfortable.
About the Author
Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.
Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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