''Quintessential Schubert because they speak in the intimate tone and idiom of the drawing-room rather than the concert hall'' is how these Impromptus were once described by John Reed, and we all know what he meant. Krystian Zimerman, nevertheless, banishes all thoughts of Schubert as a domestic composer. Partly, of course, because of a full-bodied, fairly close recording, and no less because of Zimerman's own strong climaxes, the music comes over boldly. In fact with his wide dynamic range and clearly delineated texture, he constantly made me think of how these pieces might have sounded if Schubert had scored them for orchestra.
Ritenutos in the leading theme's phrase-ends on its first few solo appearances in D899 No. 1 in C minor initially roused my fears that we might find ourselves made too aware of an interpreter at work. But while still regretting those unrequested wiltings, I was soon won over by the immediacy of Zimerman's response to the narrative quality of this piece and its contrasts of lyrical assuagement and challenge. Impromptu No. 2 in E flat brings a dramatically defiant second subject and an uncommonly desperate, headlong home-coming; No. 3 in G flat has a purposeful yet wholly natural melodic flow free from all sentimentality; while No. 4 in A flat, drawing strength in its opening and closing sections from firm left-hand underpinning, brings an eloquently expressive central trio where I much enjoyed Zimerman's deeper savouring of the magical switch from minor to major in his repeat of the second half (track 4, 4'29'').
In the D935 set I admired the textural clarity underlying his strongly characterful story-telling in No. 1 in F minor, and his directness of expression and poise in No. 2 in A flat. The Rosamunde theme itself is beautifully played both at the start and end of No. 3 in B flat. Some of his rhythmic teasing in Vars. 2 and 5 sounds a trifle self-conscious. But his ardour in the third is as arresting as his 'orchestration' of the fourth. As for the last F minor Impromptu, he flings it off with all the right temperamental caprice and sheer keyboard elan.
Perhaps I should remind readers that The Classical Catalogue already has first-rate recordings of these eight pieces from the limpid-toned, poetically lyrical Lupu (Decca), the glistening, spring-like Perahia (CBS), and the more romantically intense and volatile Brendel (Philips). But I'd still be very glad to have this expansive new performance in my own library as well—despite what now and again sounded to me like a ghostly vocal obbligato from the artist himself.'