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SCRUTINY | Dame Imogen Cooper & Sunny Ritter: Two Pianists Who Span The Decades With Panache

By Arthur Kaptainis on March 6, 2023

L-R: Sunny Ritter (Photo: Wilke); Dame Imogen Cooper (Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)
L-R: Sunny Ritter (Photo: Wilke); Dame Imogen Cooper (Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

RCM at Koerner Hall/Fryderyk Chopin, Thomas Adès, and Karol Szymanowski; Mazurkas; Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 30 in E Major, op. 109; Franz Liszt: 3 Petrarch Sonnets, S. 158; Franz Liszt: 4 Valses oubliées, S. 215, R. 37; Franz Liszt: Bagatelle sans tonalité, S. 216a, R. 60C; Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, op. 111. Dame Imogen Cooper, Koerner Hall, March 5, 2023.

Pianists come in various vintages. None should or could have monopoly control over certain repertoire. Still, there is a consensus that the perspective that comes with experience does not hurt in late Beethoven. Dame Imogen Cooper urged such a conclusion Sunday afternoon in Koerner Hall.

The recital ended with Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 111, last of the 32 for piano. Moments of repose in the first movement stood out not only for their intrinsic beauty, but for the perspective they lent to all those furiously rushing semiquavers. The finely tapered fade away of the last bars led naturally to the Arietta and variations that followed.

These were subtly characterized and performed with a feeling of momentum that affirmed both their individuality and their connectedness. We could hardly have asked for a more luminous treatment of the treble figures and trills that seem to open the gates to another dimension. In the final movement of the Sonata Op. 109 we likewise had a sense of sustained access to higher realms, including an elevated kind of humour in the detaché note-plucking of Variation 3.

In the completed movements of Schubert’s Sonata in C Major D. 840, the pianist’s ability to mark changes of tone melded well with the composer’s characteristic alterations of light and shade. A few rhythmic figures in the first movement returned rather insistently, but so it is sometimes with Schubert. The program began with Liszt’s Petrarch Sonnets 47, 123 and 104 in radiant performances that reminded us of the vocal origin of these pieces.

The big turnout was remarkable given the greater renown of this British pianist (making her Koerner Hall debut) across the pond. The impression she gave of serious and high-minded artistry was redoubled by her dignified stage deportment. A sequinned top added a helpful touch of glamour.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467; Vania Angelova: Passacaglia; Dmitri Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in D major, Opus 83a. Sinfonia Toronto, Nurhan Arman, conductor, George Weston Hall, March 4, 2023.

Prodigies are usually heard with some degree of charity. Sometimes they need it. And sometimes they play as Sunny Ritter did Saturday for Sinfonia Toronto in the George Weston Recital Hall.

Blessed with all the charming outer attributes of successful prodigality, this petite 13-year-old Austrian-born Canadian proved to have inner qualities as well in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 K. 467. The tone was forthright, the phrasing mature.

Ritter was able to broaden the tempo for the solo passages that lend minor-mode chiaroscuro to the first movement, and played the fanciful cadenza of the Italian pianist Maria Tipo with an exploratory spirit. The famous Andante was honest, lyrical and free of the usual cinematic haze. Again, the minor-mode interventions were given full value.

Articulation was clear throughout, but most notably in the amiable finale. All this performance needed was a solo encore.

I suppose the performance could also have used some winds and timpani, the 13-piece orchestra being confined to strings (in fact an expansion of Ignaz Lachner’s reduction for string quintet). With incisive conducting, Nurhan Arman was able to persuade us to overlook the deficit. Perhaps it was also possible for some listeners to fill in the blanks unconsciously — this being Mozart’s most popular concerto.

After intermission, we heard Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 4 in Arman’s expansion. The orchestra managed to convey the quiet intensity of this relentlessly interior music, which does not often rise above mezzoforte. Soft sounds and rounded corners prevailed. Still, Arman maintained a sense of engagement. He had a harder row to hoe in Vania Angelova’s erratic six-minute Passacaglia.

The audience, including many families, was attentive, even if there was (unfortunately) applause between movements. Sinfonia Toronto has decided to cut down on paper, meaning that the program was accessible only through a QR code. I am not sure that inviting people to stare at their cellphones is a satisfactory solution. We have plenty of opportunities to do that outside of the concert hall.


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