Music review: Imogen Cooper and the Maxwell Quartet, Paxton House, near Berwick-upon-Tweed

This collaboration between the Maxwell Quartet and Omogen Cooper was a glowing success, writes David Kettle

Imogen Cooper PIC: Sim Canetty Clarke

Imogen Cooper and the Maxwell Quartet, Paxton House, near Berwick-upon-Tweed *****

The four video cameras, lighting rig and mixing desk made slightly incongruous additions to the visual opulence of Paxton House’s Picture Gallery. But these are the times we live in, and the recording of what was surely one of Music at Paxton’s finest concerts this year will remain online on the festival’s website until 15 August. You really should watch it.

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It felt like quite an occasion, marking the first collaboration between the dynamic young players of Scotland’s Maxwell Quartet and eminent British pianist (and recent recipient of a damehood) Imogen Cooper, instigated by the festival’s artistic director Angus Smith. It proved a glowing success.

OK, pianist and quartet displayed quite different musical personalities at times in their Dvořák A major Piano Quintet, the Maxwell foursome rugged, muscular, strongly projected and bristling with enthusiasm, while Cooper was more restrained, refined, even introspective at times. But she was keeping her energy in reserve for the piece’s big climaxes – so joyful and exuberant at the end of the first movement, for example, that it drew gasps and delighted chuckles from the audience.

It was a powerful, strongly characterful performance overall, with a third movement Furiant that whipped along at with impetuous energy, and a slinky, supple ‘slow’ second movement that delivered a real interplay of individual voices. And never can Dvořák’s spirited finale have sounded more like a Scottish reel.

Just as revelatory, however, was the concert’s opener, the maritime fantasy Visions at Sea for string quartet by contemporary Dutch composer Joey Roukens, combining seasick swelling harmonies, gutsy shanties and half-heard madrigals. It got a brilliantly persuasive performance from the Maxwell players, so vivid and expertly paced that it could have been the soundtrack to a silent film. A concert of revelations all round.

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