ALBUM TITLE: Impromptu
WORKS: Beethoven: Fantasia in G minor, Op. 77; Chopin: Impromptus Nos 1-3; Dvorák: Impromptu in D minor, B129; Gershwin: Impromptu in two keys; Ives: Three Improvisations; Liszt: Impromptu; Schubert: Four Impromptus
PERFORMER: Shai Wosner (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4172
Improvising, says Shai Wosner, implies a state of mind: its results are informal though not necessarily formless, a quality exemplified by impromptus despite their being fully written-out. Two of these pieces don’t quite fit that definition: Charles Ives’s improvisations were transcribed from a 1938 recording, and were indeed improvised. But all the others fit, and by marshalling them together Wosner says something interesting about them: each may be a social misfit in normal company, but here can be seen as belonging to a clearly-defined genre.
And there’s a ‘rush’ that comes with losing yourself in an improvisation, says Wosner, ‘the liberating feeling you get when that thing you were making up on the spot seems to take on a life of its own’. And that is how his playing comes over. Schubert’s F minor Impromptu becomes a dreamlike flow, as its initial grandeur dissolves into lyrical sweetness, and then into a mist out of which wisps of melody seem to float; its loose rondo form becomes a pretext for emotional excursions.
Beethoven’s ‘Fantasy’ is a stream-of-consciousness exercise in which operatic recitatives, a csardas, a fugue, and a theme with variations are compressed between the two polarities of an aggressive downward scale and a chorale-like melody, and to this piece Wosner brings a whiff of gunpowder. The Liszt becomes a meditation on a chord; the second Ives piece twinkles, glows, and glowers; the Chopin pieces are given ravishingly delicate colouring; the Gershwin emerges as a silkily-delivered joke; the little Dvoπák piece is bursting with ideas.
And if Wosner’s magic touch creates a unity out of these very disparate works, it’s slightly at the expense of their character, as the brief storms which intermittently blow up are not allowed to distort the serene onward momentum. No matter: this CD is bewitching.