VORISEK: 8 Rhapsodies from Op. 1; SCHUBERT: 4 Impromptus, D. 899 – Gerlint Boettcher, piano – Ars Musici 232905, 77:04 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Music scholars have often noted the connection between Bohemian composer Jan Vaclav Vorisek (1791-1825) and Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828), but rarely do we experience the influence in sound, as here. Gerlint Boettcher, a pupil of Rudolf Kehrer and Gyorgy Sebok, explores these forerunners and evolvers of the Romantic ethos–on the Steinway D, rec. 12-14 July 2007–with first a lion’s share of Vorisek’s Op. 1 Rhapsodies for Pianoforte (1818), pieces which Beethoven complimented when he heard Vorisek, courtesy of Hummel, in Vienna. Vorisek utilized the term “impromptu” prior to both Schubert and Chopin, and he and teacher Vaclav Jan Tomasek introduced the term “rhapsody.” The Rhapsodies of Vorisek conform to a basic ternary pattern, and they consistently find harmonic gravity in the use of diminished chords, folk rhythms, and expressive melodies.

The first Rhapsody in C-sharp Minor (Allegro) passed by without striking my fancy, although it sounds competent enough as music. The melodic turn carries the song-without-words quality we know from Mendelssohn. The E Major No. 2 definitely makes some rococo imprints in its staccati syncopations, or Scarlatti rounded off with trills and lyric impulses. The No. 4 in F Major (Vivace) pursues some marsche-militaire elements, though its light feet could be taken for a Weber scherzo and the central section for a ballade. The A-flat Major No. 6 might suggest light Chopin or Hummel, a glittery showpiece that wants steady motion and brisk roulades. The middle section reveals an operatic character, likely of French taste. No. 7 in D Minor (Allegro furioso) immediately strikes unconventional chords and passing dissonances–Vorisek’s sturm und drang–in fluttering chords, some of which carry a melodramatic or cinematic bite. The D Major No. 8 is marked “Veloce, ardito,” rapidly with impertinence, and it carries a gangly velocity we associate with Schubert’s Klavierstuecke, D. 946. No. 9 in G Minor (Allegro appassionato) impresses with its modal incursions and angular melodic line countered by strutting staccati and choppy chords. Its middle section might be an Irish or Scottish air made flamboyant, tripping with a gay spirit marked by high trills. Boettcher concludes the Vorisek group with the C Major Rhapsody, the No. 10, which plays at first as an etude in right hand articulation in triplets and quick motion in syncopation, a cross between Mendelssohn and Chopin. The marking is “Allegro risvegliato,” fast and sprightly, though the middle section demands salon grace in pendulum motion, a kind of Bohemian response to a Bach invention.

Schubert’s 1827 Impromptus, Op. 90 combine declamatory narrative elements (the one in C Minor) as well as intense moments of lyric grandeur, as in the haunted G-flat Major, No. 3. The delight lies in the unusual harmonic progression and the often un-pianistic disposition of  hand positions. Schubert’s keen ear loves to transpose the repeated melody to a new register or to a new harmonization–often in the median key–that always exploits the vocal capacity of the instrument. Boettcher’s marcato treatment of the C Minor manages to savor the competing sonic elements in the treble and bass, and she has a fine legato when required. The E-flat Major would be an etude by Chopin if it were not for the periods Schubert marks out in his idiosyncratic style, the counter-melody rich with confident swagger and a touch of Spanish spice. The brilliant A-flat Major still belongs to Artur Schnabel in my catalogue of great interpretations, with Edwin Fischer in close running. I must confess Ms. Boettcher plays with poetic enthusiasm, the grand “cello” melody rising from the sea of  arpeggios, and the music then proceeding to one poignant love song over tremolo bass chords.  A sensitive idiomatically touching recital in the classic Romantic manner, I should say.

–Gary Lemco