Imogen Cooper makes a successful foray into piano works by Liszt and Wagner

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COMPOSERS: Liszt,Wagner
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Liszt * Wagner
WORKS: Liszt: Deuxième valse oubliée; Gretchen; Années de pèlerinage II – excerpts; Nuages gris; La lugubre gondola I; Bagatelle sans tonalité; Wagner: Elegie; Prelude to ‘Tristan und Isolde’ (transcr. Kocsis); Isolde’s Liebestod (arr. Liszt)
PERFORMER: Imogen Cooper (piano)


In March’s issue, Imogen Cooper offered some intriguing thoughts about her interest in performing Liszt’s music, after decades of being known and admired as a Schubert specialist. The supposed gulf in style between the two composers is indeed not at all as wide as received opinion would have it. Ten per cent of Liszt’s huge output consisted of Schubert transcriptions; and the anti-virtuosic manner of much of Liszt’s music – as explored in this beautifully devised programme – surely relates to Schubert’s example.

The more specific connection here, however, is between Liszt and Wagner. Between the two transcriptions from the opening and close of Tristan und Isolde, Cooper has placed La lugubre gondola I, where Liszt seemingly prefigures both Wagner’s death (which occurred in Venice), and the modernist chromaticism of future musical decades. This triptych idea works eyebrow-raisingly well, with Wagner’s piano Elegie as a short prelude. And La lugubre gondola connects with the other late Liszt works here – themselves deployed around four Italy-inspired pieces from Années de pèlerinage. Cooper’s keyboard mastery is as searching as the music itself: the whirling bravura of the Deuxième valse oubliée and Bagatelle sans tonalité has their harmonic world sounding astonishingly forward-looking. Her way of balancing chords mesmerises the ear – both in the consonant close of Sposalizio (whose poised opening is exquisitely delivered) and the strangely dissonant final bars of Il penseroso. This is altogether exceptional music-making, graced for good measure with the warmly beautiful acoustic of Snape Maltings Concert Hall.

Malcolm Hayes


Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.