MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491; Piano Concerto No. 25 in c Major, K. 503; Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397 – Imogen Cooper, piano and conductor/Northern Sinfonia – Avie AV2175, 69:35 [Distr. by ClassiQuest] ****:
Recorded 8-11 November 2007 in Hall One of the Sage Gateshead, England, these concertos show off the multi-talented Imogen Cooper (b. 1949) to decided advantage, especially her concept of the spiritual agitation, if not cosmic vehemence, in Mozart’s C Minor Concerto (1786). Cooper, who recently played a stunning concert for the Steinway society in San Jose, California, has achieved a marvelous sense of balance, the aggressive, tragic tumult measured against the solace that Mozart’s melodic currency affords. We are reminded that Beethoven himself felt daunted by the emotional ferocity of this dark work, set against the strictures of sonata-form convention. A pupil of Alfred Brendel, Cooper utilizes that master’s cadenzas for both concertos. The cadenza employs the gravitas of the melodic phrasing, whose ¾ meter somehow eschews the dance for more dire investigations into the human psyche. Sound engineering by Simon Fox-Gal captures the string and woodwind paroxysms of this haunted work with astonishing definition.
The Larghetto projects a child’s tears, a cradle-song in the form of a rondo. The otherwise large orchestral forces remain restrained, although the clarinets, flute, and bassoon enter into melancholy dialogue with the piano over hushed strings. Violins and violas projects a remarkable affecting tone in this movement. If we did not know Mozart penned this extraordinary music, we might venture Chopin thought of it in an antique style. The theme-and-variations last movement, Allegretto, states the march theme with scintillating definition, Cooper’s molding the muscular phrases with authority, while the bassoon provides transitional support. The martial enunciations of the theme burst forth, only to recede in dewdrops from Cooper’s suave palette. Cooper adds a brief cadenza before the last variant, whose plaintive venture into the major hardly alleviates the wonderfully poignant drama that wraps itself around our mortal coil.
The C Major Concerto (1786) truly enjoys a Miltonic scale of values, the affects chasing one another on a grand tour. The repeated G’s will become a seal of the triumphal progression of the operatic gestures of this concerto, whose optimistic spirit lies akin to The Marriage of Figaro. Piano, winds–especially the flute–and tympani intermingle in spacious harmony, Cooper’s scales and rockets set in seamless chains of pearly, music-box elegance. Ceremonial pomp and salon intimacy magically coalesce in the course of the luxurious first movement, the work easily gliding into a woodwind serenade of the order of the Grand Partita, K. 361. Brendel’s cadenza utilizes the upward scales and the secondary, dolce theme, slowing down the tempo to savor the left hand roulades over the dominant chord. Trumpets and drums bring an extraordinary jubilance to a bubbling close. Nice balances for the open-work motives of the Andante, horn, woodwinds, and piano in perfect symmetry. Plenty of brilliant fioritura in the final Allegretto to challenge Cooper and confirm her deft prowess in the Mozart style, the strings and woodwinds once again ablaze with fluent motion. Three huge chords set us adrift on a cloud from Mozart’s musical Elysium, oboe and flute as redolent as they resonant. The coda romps with lusty confidence in its own powers of unbuttoned expression.
The D Minor Fantasia (c. 1782) owes something to Bach, darkly set in three sections that move from the arioso D Minor to A Minor and last, to a redemptive D Major. Incomplete at Mozart’s death the score is likely in its finished form by the hand of August Eberhard Mueller. Introspective, improvisatory, and obsessive, the piece points to aspects of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, tonally unstable and deeply haunted. Cooper emerges from the gloomy mists and imparts a sense of gladness in the D Major section, trills and operatic runs in abundance.