Shai Wosner: Impromptu
Lest anyone harbour reservations about Shai Wosner’s gifts as an imaginative programmer, this CD should lay them to rest. Using Schubert’s second set of Impromptus and three of Chopin’s eponymous works as connective tissue, he has juxtaposed a series of pieces, ranging from Beethoven to Gershwin, resulting in a veritable feast of spontaneity.
Those familiar with Wosner’s two previous CDs, devoted primarily to Schubert, will find in these D935 Impromptus the same heartfelt lyricism and ultra-refined pianism. In the F minor First, the opening material grows increasingly articulate, with gently lilting tremolo figurations floating beatifically above. The hand-crossing dialogue (2'43") is especially ardent in its longing. The eloquent A flat Second holds its cantabile aloft as if on a cloud. Yet, if one were to quibble in the face of such musical and pianistic wealth, Wosner’s burnished, poised surfaces can obscure a more robust, masculine Schubert, a man subject to mercurial passions who never strays far from the vital roots of Austrian folk music. One could wish that passages evoking yodelling were earthier, repetitive rhythmic figures in the Rosamunde variations more rambunctious, or the flight from the Furies in the final F minor Impromptu more driven.
This abundance of finesse suits the Chopin Impromptus admirably, revealing something akin to epiphanic joy. In Op 29, melancholy mitigates higher spirits naturally and seamlessly. Op 36 exudes morning freshness with gentle sweetness, all the more vivid for the Trio’s ecstatic heroism. The whole emerges with a psychological cohesion rarely encountered in this piece.
Of the other pieces – dreamy Liszt, searchingly expressive Ives, smart Gershwin and Dvořák’s gentle disquietude – the Beethoven Fantasy warrants special mention. Wosner vividly suggests the white-hot inspiration that we know from historical accounts to have been a quality of Beethoven’s improvisations. This reading couldn’t sound more original or spontaneous had it been created on the spot.
All is faithfully captured by producer and engineer Simon Kiln. Wosner’s abandonment of the still prevalent lexigraphic programming practices of so many classical recordings is laudable. It demonstrates that, along with fresh perspectives, unusual juxtapositions, effected with intelligence and taste, may yield a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Don’t miss this satisfying listen!