Classical special: Sinfonia on key

Tony CooperThe Britten Sinfonia continues its new season at the Theatre Royal next week, with renowned pianist Imogen Cooper directing the orchestra. TONY COOPER spoke to her.Tony Cooper

The Britten Sinfonia continues its new season at the Theatre Royal next week, with renowned pianist Imogen Cooper directing the orchestra. TONY COOPER spoke to her.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There couldn't have a better person playing Beethoven's C minor piano concerto, a work that exemplifies the stylish essence of High Classicism, than renowned pianist Imogen Cooper.

Cooper - the daughter of musicologist Martin Cooper - studied with the legendary Beethoven master Alfred Brendel, who gave his final concert last year at Vienna's Musikverein with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. It marked the end of a glorious 60-year career.

Most Read

The pianist will be directing Britten Sinfonia, led by Jacqueline Shave, from the piano next week as the new season at the Theatre Royal continues next week.

'Brendel was a marvellous and accommodating person to work with,' she says, 'but on the platform he came across as an austere figure. He was somebody for whom playing the piano didn't come as easy as it did for other great names. He had to practise a lot - at least, he believed he had to practise a lot. He didn't have a phenomenal memory, so when he walked out on to the platform it was probably as much of a challenge for him as it was for the members of the audience. He always had a tremendous sense of vocation, though, a mission to transmit what he knows and what he feels.

'Listening to him play Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven or Liszt, you had a sense of his deep understanding of the idiom of these composers. He was fully aware of every marking and understands what that marking meant. What Schubert marks as a dot and what Mozart marks as a dot does not always add up to the same thing.

'I well remember at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in 1973 he played Haydn sonatas interspersed with Bart�k's first concerto and Schoenberg's piano concerto, which he played an important role in bringing to the mainstream repertoire. To hear him play Haydn was to hear him at his most cheeky. Quite often, when he finished a piece, he would turn to the audience with a wicked grin and they would erupt into laughter.'

Whether Cooper - who derservedly received a CBE in the Queen's New Year Honours in 2007 - makes the audience erupt into laughter is another matter but more often than not they do erupt into wild applause following her concerts.

'Audiences worldwide are quick to recognise that they're in the presence of a pianist of great virtuosity and one who has established an enviable reputation as one of the finest interpreters of the classical repertoire,' said David Butcher, chief executive of the Britten Sinfonia. 'She's renowned for bringing to the concert platform a unique musical understanding while her playing has a fine lyrical quality to it.'

Complementing the Beethoven in the concert will be two popular and endearing works of the repertoire: Webern's landmark Five Movements, an early work written a century ago and one that follows in the footsteps of the Venetian school of composers and Haydn's well-loved G major symphony, no 88.

Completed in 1787, its one of the composer's best-known works and occasionally referred to as The Letter V referring to an older method of cataloguing his symphonic output.

It is appropriate to be included in the programme as this year Haydn is being celebrated the world over on the 200th anniversary of his death.

t Imogen Cooper Directs Beethoven with the Britten Sinfonia at the Theatre Royal on February 6, �6-�25, 01603 630000,