Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy, Albeniz
For Malvern Concert Club’s second concert of the season, on 27 October, the pianist Imogen Cooper presented a programme of Schumann, Beethoven, Debussy, de Falla and Albeniz, beginning with Schumann’s rarely performed Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6. Schumann imagined the Davidsbündler as a band of heroes battling the forces of Philistinism in the arts, and in eighteen short pieces he presents a kind of dialectical dance or joust between the passionate Florestan and the dreamy Eusebius. Cooper found just the right weight and pacing, the passionate and the dreamy becoming contrasting facets of the one deeply Romantic persona.
The choice of Beethoven’s lightweight Bagatelles Op. 33 to follow the Schumann risked a sense of anticlimax. Cooper made the most of the contrasts, with bright, crisp tones, sharp rhythms and an alertness to the humour in these pieces, but music that sustained an argument for more than a few minutes might have worked better after Schumann.
The second half also comprised miniatures. De Falla’s heart-felt Homenaje in memory of Debussy led into two of Debussy’s own exotic pieces, the Soirée dans Grenade and the Puerta del Vino, magically played with delicate tones and the subtlest of pedalling. Then came four pieces by Albeniz, which pleasantly sustained our dreams of warm Andalusian nights. In the more extended final piece, Fête-Dieu à Seville, Albeniz attempts to conjure the passions and excitement of a religious street procession with passages of quite ferocious virtuosity, yet the surrounding musical material was not strong enough to support such excesses, and even Imogen Cooper struggled to bring this one off. Why choose such problematic music, I wondered, when there is a superfluity of better-composed and exciting concert-closers by more recent, or even living, composers? The encore, a tiny piece by the Catalan composer Mompou gave us a tantalizing glimpse of a more modern mode of expression. For all that, the grace, refinement and imaginative qualities of Cooper’s playing were a joy to behold.