Imogen Cooper

Iberia y Francia

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Pianist Imogen Cooper has specialized mostly in Mozart and Beethoven, and you might not expect her to take on Debussy and especially not the fiery Albéniz. However, she succeeds here, offering entirely original readings of these rather well-worn works. For a long time, music embodying images of the Iberian peninsula was the province of Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, and Cooper does well to steer clear of that artist's shadow altogether. Her Iberian images are restrained, rising above a gentle simmer only a few times. The works by Debussy and Ravel are, after all, evocations of Spain rather than portraits (Debussy went to Spain only once in his life, for a few hours), and even Albéniz's Iberia has its gypsy fire filtered through French Impressionism. When Cooper does turn on the power, the notes keep their precision even in the passages that caused critic Donal Henahan to remark that "any three-handed pianist should have no problem with them." Sample the "Corpus Christi in Seville" movement with its thrilling collision between the processional march of the ceremony and the Andalusian flamenco sounds that surround it. After that climax, Cooper introduces a new composer, the infinitely subtle Mompou, who is ideally suited to her talents. The entire thing may have the flavor of Spain recollected in tranquility, but it's a novel concept, flawlessly executed, and the Snape Maltings auditorium sound is superb.

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