Schubert: Piano Sonatas
Imogen Cooper is well known, and deservedly so, for her dedication to Schubert. Her first series of recordings of all his major piano music, made some years ago, is still available (on Ottavo), and all told I prefer it to this new series on this present showing, admirable though it is in very many ways.
This first pair of discs is of performances given last year in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The recorded sound tends to the percussive, and Cooper’s exquisite legato is rarely in evidence. Everything here is calculated, and though it is the calculation of love, sometimes one feels, as with the comparable Uchida, that the beloved works are being hugged a bit too closely.
That is true particularly of the A major Sonata, D958, a stupendous work whose momentum is sometimes impeded as Cooper relishes a detail. The second movement, one of the most desolate ever composed, is not quite bare enough, while its ranting middle section doesn’t give the impression – very few accounts do – of control having been lost.
The other works all fare better, though the D major Sonata, D850, one of Schubert’s macho excursions, in which aggressive repeated chords and rapid menacing runs predominate, left me out for the count. The very brief, enchanting Ecossaises fare better, and so do the sublime Three Piano Pieces, D946, and the A minor Sonata, D845. I don’t hear an advance on what Cooper produced earlier, however, in any of these pieces. Michael Tanner