Impromptus by Fauré, Scriabin & Chopin

Katya Apekisheva (Champs Hill Records)

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Impromptus
Fauré Impromptus Nos 1-5; Impromptu in D flat, Op. 86 bis; Scriabin Impromptus, Opp. 10, 12 & 14; Piece in C minor, Op. 2 No. 3; Chopin Impromptus Nos 1-4
Katya Apekisheva (piano)
Champs Hill Records CHRCD 135
79:27 mins

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The Russian pianist Katya Apekisheva was moved to make this record after being drawn to Fauré’s Impromptus, which are rarely performed; they led her on to explore the genre of the impromptu more generally, despite the elusiveness of an adequate definition. She was excited, she says, by its improvisational quality, and by the variety of moods it could encapsulate, from playful miniatures to melancholic and profound pieces of music. Scriabin’s impromptus, she realised, were also seldom heard; Chopin’s four essays in the genre would provide the aesthetic foundation, given that composer’s influence on his two successors.

The young Scriabin, as the liner-note observes, used to sleep with Chopin’s music under his pillow: the ‘Impromptu à la Mazur’, which he wrote at 15, is such a faithful Chopin pastiche that it might have come from his pen. Scriabin’s mature impromptus retain that clear link – Op. 12 No. 2 could be a Chopin nocturne – but they also reflect a side of this composer which is less busily ornate than that of his better-known works; his underlying harmonies give an interrogative colouring to the melodies they accompany, while the Op. 14 pair have a wistful delicacy which Apekisheva renders with winning grace. Fauré’s impromptus are dark-hued, mysterious, and remarkably variegated in the games they play – sometimes virtuosic, sometimes declamatory, and each springs its own surprises. Apekisheva’s great strengths are her mercurial touch and her ability to create unique soundworlds; the garland of pieces she has woven here – with Chopin’s impromptus as its central section – makes a delightful 80 minutes.

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Michael Church