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This is a predominantly restrained, often quiet recital – though it has its volatile moments, too – comprising a group of Nocturnes, a Fantaisie and two Ballades, topped and tailed by subtle evocations of the polonaise and a lullaby. The concluding, delightful Berceuse (1843) sounds almost Satie-like (shades of the Gymnopédies) in Cooper’s hands, its gentle charm and humour representative of the programme overall. The heart of the recital lies in the Nocturnes – starting with the final pair Op 62, then looking backwards to Op 55 No 2 and the early D-flat. Their quiet virtuosity suits Imogen Cooper’s style of playing, interpretative genius and skill at delineating so poetically the light and shade in the music. These qualities are writ large in the opening track, the Polonaise-Fantaisie, by a handful of seconds the longest track here.

The Polonaise-Fantaisie is also set in context by some of Chopin’s boldest solo piano designs. A different side of Cooper’s pianistic personality emerges in the stormier vistas of the great Fantaisie Op 49 and the drama of the first and fourth Ballades with their elements of bravura held in nicely judged check. Cooper’s phrasing and pacing of the Ballades in particular is ideal, catching the lilt of the familiar main themes –without splashily over-interpreting them as some younger pianistic lions and lionesses are wont to do – as well as the sense of endeavour in the musical journeys they describe.

Cooper lays out her approach to the composer and the music in a revealing and insightful performer’s note. This is intelligent music-making of a high order and, with a total duration of over 80 minutes, real value for money!

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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