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Review: Adrian Brendel and Imogen Cooper at Birmingham Town Hall

Norman Stinchcombe reviews Adrian Brendel and Imogen Cooper at Birmingham Town Hall.

Adrian Brendel and Imogen Cooper at Birmingham Town Hall
*****
Birmingham Town Hall
Birmingham Town Hall

In the opening prelude of Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 I found Adrian Brendel’s playing a little perfunctory, even slightly rough-edged. However, I soon came to appreciate his particular qualities and found this a performance to savour.

He may lack the immediately ingratiating honeyed tone of, for example, his younger contemporary Leonard Elschenbroich but has a fierce musical intelligence and plays with a Klemperer-like pursuit of truth before sheer beauty.

Each dance movement was vividly delineated with the Sarabande as the slow, steady heartbeat of the work. The closing Gigue was ebullient with delightful drone effects where Bach suggests a rustic band accompaniment.

He brought the same vivid characterization to Schubert’s Arpeggione sonata, especially in the playful Allegretto, with some fizzing pizzicato. The piano role here is a supporting one; the star was originally the guitar-like bowed arpeggione, a now forgotten novelty instrument.

Imogen Cooper emerged as a true partner in Rachmaninov’s Sonata in G minor, as romantic and warm-hearted as his second piano concerto composed just before it. I heard this sonata three years ago and although in very close proximity the cello was inaudible: here the balance was perfect, a tribute to this partnership’s skill.

The Allegro Scherzando was outstanding with both players obviously relishing the music’s mordant wit and foregrounding its sinister qualities. They were equally adept in two melancholy miniatures by Liszt, the Elegie II and Romance oubliée, whose austere stripped-down musical structures sounded years ahead of Rachmaninov, with Brendel’s playing especially poignant in the latter work.

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