SCHUBERT: Four Impromptus, D. 899; Four Impromptus, D. 935 – Joshua Pierce, piano – MSR

by | Oct 27, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUBERT: Four Impromptus, D. 899; Four Impromptus, D. 935 – Joshua Pierce, piano

MSR 1205, 65:17 [Distrib. by Albany] ****:

Recorded 21 July 1996, this assemblage of the eight impromptus of 1826 has Joshua Pierce playing them as though each set of four were a sonata in its own right, an emotional unity. Whether his approach creates any alteration in the relative dramatic effect of the two suites remains a matter of taste, given that the likes of Schnabel, Serkin, Brendel, and Fischer have passed this way before. Certainly Pierce brings a formidable, fluent technique to these familiar keyboard staples, emphasizing the big Gs of the opening C Minor Impromptu and making short work of the triplet runs in the pungent No. 2 in E-flat Major. The evolving melos of the G-flat Major Impromptu–with its unorthodox application of 8/4 time and its singular modulation to E-flat Minor–Pierce accomplishes by emphasizing the bass trill in the manner of the posthumous B-flat Major Sonata. The last of the Op. 90 (D. 899) set, the A-flat Major, has Pierce relishing its deliberate ambiguity of modality – minor arpeggios complemented by staccato chords. The left-hand melody rises up in cello timbre then passes into lovely triplets, Pierce milking the pathos with graduated pedal effects. The C-sharp Minor middle section brings out rich colors from the Pierce palette, and the da capo elicits all sorts of liquid ripples and gurgles that must have their roots in the many an Austrian outdoor excursion.

The huge F Minor Impromptu from Op. 142 (D. 935)–a favorite of Robert Schumann and Gyorgy Cziffra, among others–basks in a number of procedures and techniques that mark large sonata-allegro forms, especially when borrowed from Beethoven. The chromatic handling of the second theme in A-flat Major becomes a wonder in itself, moving between both hands and adding 16th notes and cascades of arpeggios, all out of a rocking Aeolian harp, the cradle of the world. The four-beat sequences certainly hearken to the same ingenuities we hear in Beethoven’s C Minor Symphony and G Major Piano Concerto. The lovely A-flat Allegretto enters like a minuet complemented by a stately march of some force. Pierce applies a soothing legato to the filigree of the D-flat Major/Minor Trio section, impelling it forward in the manner of a real improvisation, trill and arpeggiated triplets quite pronounced. The so-called Rosamunde Impromptu in B-flat Major opens as a song without words, balancing the home key with touches of G Minor. The five ensuing variants exploit syncopations, 16ths and triplets, all the while embroidering the basic melody. Like Beethoven, Schubert adds a coda or codetta that demands a life of its own. The glittery surface of this music bespeaks volumes about hausmusik in general and points to brillantes like Alkan and Gottschalk. The F Minor Allegro scherzando that concludes the set savors its trills and scales, delighting in lithe, impish, upward jabs and leaps for the virtuoso. The middle section evokes Chopin for its repetitions and delicious modulations of character, hovering around A Major and A-flat. The piu Presto coda in staccati proves a moment Mr. Pierce obviously anticipated with his customary zeal.

A minor caveat: the timings for the first two impromptus of Op. 142 are incorrectly cited on all listings for this album: they should read: 12:58 and 7:32, respectively.

— Gary Lemco

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