“Schubert: The Complete Impromptus”
Franz Schubert: Four Impromptus, D 899: n° 1 in C minor, n° 2 in E-Flat major, n° 3 in G-Flat major, n° 4 in A-Flat major – Four Impromptus, D 935: n° 1 in F minor, n° 2 in A-Flat major, n° 3 in B-Flat major, n° 4 in F minor
Gerardo Teissonnière (piano)
Recording: Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia (March 21-24, 2023) – 72’55
Steinway & Sons 30220 – Booklet in English
Who doesn’t love a good impromptu? The short, one-movement form is the right length for all attention spans and offers abundant opportunity for creative expression by composer and performing artist alike. Yet despite the positives, we can name on one hand the composers who turned to the impromptu with serious attention: Chopin, Fauré, Schubert and, perhaps, the first person to use the term, Jan Václav Vorísek (1791-1825), a good friend of Schubert.
Despite the few selections which bear its name, the impromptu remains a beloved staple of the piano recital repertoire. It’s no wonder, then, that recitals and albums continue to bring these musical gems to a public who never tires of their sparkle and originality.
The latest of these, Steinway & Sons has released the first volume in a series of the complete Impromptus of Schubert featuring the Puerto Rican pianist, Gerardo Teissonnière. The pianist brings an impressive lineage to his performances, having studied with disciples of Artur Schnabel and Alfred Cortot. He has given many world premieres of works by leading contemporary composers and serves on the faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music.
This is a fine recording which offers listeners a clean, crisp rendering of eight of Schubert’s finest movements for piano. The pianist avoids romantic excess, but neither does he succumb to stony intellectualism. The impromptu, after all, is supposed to have the free-spirited nature of improvisation. Here is an artist who has mastered the middle path, and it is indeed golden. He plays the four Impromptus of D 899 with energy and aplomb. There is a touch of Schubertian wistfulness in the Lied-like third Impromptu in G-Flat major, though I thought the fourth selection, in A-Flat major, would have benefitted by just a hint more of that thread of yearning woven throughout the composer’s body of work. Sometimes this yearning is manifested in rubato, or the hesitant way one note or chord can quietly slip into a silence or the next phrase.
The D 935 collection is more robust, from the Impromptu with the Wanderer Fantasy theme, a gentle but never saccharine “Andante and Variations”, and an “Allegro scherzando” fresh as a waterfall to complete the set. The eight tracks in this album could easily be heard as two piano sonatas, with a level of control that implies strength rather than rigidity. These are the only Impromptus published in Schubert’s lifetime, and we can be reasonably certain that the versions passed along to us today represent the composer’s final choices. Teissonnière’s musical decisions are similarly well thought out and reflect a heritage communicated not only by teachers, but by the artist’s inherent instinct for what is right. We can listen appreciatively and look forward to the next release in this series with cheerful anticipation.