Impromptu : A Treasury of Extemporaneous Piano Compositions 1821-2008
Jan Václav VOŘÍŠEK (1791-1825)
Impromptu in B, op.7 no.6 (1821) [4:13]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Nocturne-Impromptu in F sharp (1872) [3:29]
César CUI (1835-1918)
Impromptu-Caprice in E (1896) [3:57]
Mily BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Impromptu on Two Preludes by Chopin (1907) [4:52]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Impromptu Passioné (1859) [2:51]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Impromptu, op.11 no.1 (1878) [1:27]
Prelude-Impromptu, op.38 no.1 (1896) [0:42]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Fantaisie-Impromptu, op.6 (1870) [6:35]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Impromptu in D minor, B.129 (1883) [4:15]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Impromptu, op.25 no.1 (1881) [3:58]
Felix BLUMENFELD (1863-1931)
Impromptu in B minor, op.28 (1898) [2:37]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1938)
Impromptu in E flat minor (1929) [2:16]
Arno BABADJANIAN (1921-1983)
Impromptu in B minor (1944) [3:13]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Five Impromptus (1920/1939) [6:25]
Nikolai MAZHARA (b.1977)
Impromtu [sic] (2008) [6:36]
Altin VOLAJ (b.1974)
Impromptu (2008) [10:42]
Antonio BIBALO (1922-2008)
Tango-Impromptu (2004) [5:18]
Margarita Glebov (piano)
rec. Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, December 2008, May 2009 and October 2009. DDD
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1245 [74:55] 

This first CD by Russian-American pianist Margarita Glebov gives a potted history of the piano impromptu, from its earliest days around 1820 to three premiere recordings from the last five years or so. On the way she avoids the famous and multiply-recorded exemplars of the genre by Chopin and Schubert. Instead she performs an extended, varied programme which combines a few reasonably well-known examples with some rarities. 

According to the liner-notes (and the New Grove Dictionary), the title 'impromptu' was first used by Bohemian composer Jan Voříšek for a piano piece in 1817, and then again in 1821 for his op.7, a set of six, of which the attractive opening track of Glebov's recital is the last. In both cases, however - and likewise for Schubert's first set, D.899 - the title appears to have been the inspiration of publishers anxious to entice prospective amateur players. Nevertheless, a trend was started and this release follows some of the historical byways of what turned out to be a very pliable art form. The disc is subtitled "a treasury of extemporaneous piano compositions", which is a little misleading, suggesting as it does improvisation - whereas most of these works were as properly thought out and composed as any more traditional form.
Not every work is especially memorable - the two by Rimsky-Korsakov, though as well-crafted as the rest of his music, are too brief to say very much out of context - his op.11 is properly Four Pieces and his op.38 two. It is equally fair to say that there is nothing earth-shattering about any of the works. On the other hand, almost every impromptu Glebov has chosen is attractively melodic and, within the constraints of a generally brief time-span - three to four minutes being a typical length - often quite freely inventive.
The pieces by Liszt, Dvořák and Fauré have been recorded and performed many times over, Poulenc less frequently - Glebov gives a fairly neutral account of these which is unlikely to strike anyone as lacking in taste or finesse. Three that will probably be widely unfamiliar are those by Felix Blumenfeld, Arno Babadjanian and Leopold Godowsky, all exceptional pianists. Their common features are a minor key and plenty of virtuosity. The Godowsky, a fourth premiere recording by Glebov, teems with simmering chromaticism, whereas Babadjanian's Armenian heritage pervades his own nostalgic work; Blumenfeld's piece goes from darkness to light and back to darkness in the space of two and a half minutes.
The impromptus by Cui, Balakirev and Mussorgsky obviously share a certain Russian essence, but otherwise are fairly different. Balakirev's torrid Impromptu on Two Preludes by Chopin is typically demanding and the way he transforms Chopin's material beguiling. Mussorgsky's Impromptu Passioné is, unusually for an impromptu, programmatic; it is also strangely calm for a work entitled Passioné, but lyrical and comely all the same, as is Cui's - the dramatic key change for the second section supplying the 'capricious' element.
The Fantaisie-Impromptu by Moszkowski bears a famous title, but as a work is not as well-known as it ought to be - possibly the only other recording is Seta Tanyel's ten years ago on Hyperion's Helios label. Vivid and vivacious, this is a fond homage to the creator of this 'sub-genre', Chopin.
The last three works in Glebov's programme provide contemporary takes on the impromptu. In a sense they are giving new life to a form that is quintessentially 19th century. Russian pianist Nikolai Mazhara, 2004 winner of the International Prokofiev Competition, wrote his Impromptu in 2008. In her liner-notes, Glebov says this 'alternative' spelling is popular in Russia - which is odd, because Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and the transliterated Russian word for the musical impromptu is the linguistic hybrid 'eksprompt'. Language aside, Mazhara's work is pianistically adventurous whilst being true to the tradition it draws on. Written in the same year, Albanian-born composer Altin Voltaj's Impromptu is unorthodox in that it consists of seven movements, alternately slow and fast, varying in character but unified by a minor third interval. This highly virtuosic work is the longest on the disc, and the one with the least melodic appeal. In a way it is not an impromptu at all, yet paradoxically it comes closest of any to at least appearing extemporised. In any case, its considerable invention makes this quite a treat for lovers of contemporary piano music. Both Mazhara's and Volaj's pieces were commissioned by Glebov. The final work is a probably unique Tango-Impromptu by Italian-Norwegian composer Antonio Bibalo. The tango element lies in the convulsive rhythm, jumping dynamics and posturing pauses.
Glebov performs admirably throughout on a Steinway D, although some of the quality of this instrument is lost through the recording which, though reasonable, tends to sound a little desiccated. The glossy CD booklet, with a colourful expressionist painting by Bauer on the front cover, provides a detailed listing and good quality notes on each of the pieces.

Note: The CD spines erroneously give the catalogue number as CD-12345.

An extended and varied programme of impromptus … reasonably well-known examples with some rarities.