Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Four Impromptus, D. 935, Op. 142 (1827) [39:22]
Thomas OSBORNE (b. 1978)
The Ends of the Earth, Four Impromptus (2011) [32:10]
Derek Kealii Polischuk (piano)
rec. June 2012, Blue Griffin's Studio, The Ballroom, Michigan, USA
BLUE GRIFFIN RECORDING BGR301 [71:32]
Schubert confessed that his compositions sprang from his sorrows and those that give the world the greatest delight were born of his deepest griefs. His Four Impromptus of D. 935 embody this tautness between elation and dejection and his schizophrenic sense of self. In Thomas Osborne's The Ends of the Earth, this measure of expansiveness is tested in the remit of the piano as Derek Kealii Polischuck must extend the conventional use of the piano to convey percussive, pizzicato and melodic sounds.
Unfortunately the Impromptu in F minor (No. 1) seems sluggish and heavy; perhaps a quicker pace or more vigour would lift this piece and give it a sense of purpose and emotional complexity. In comparison to Aldo Ciccolini's robust, virtuosic recording, Polischuck sounds safe and somewhat lacking in intent. Whilst it is regrettable that there is no desperation, urgency or sense of a spirit grappling with forces around it, this recording does recognise the sombre and tender emotions behind Schubert's music. The Impromptu in B flat major is the most pleasing Schubert piece here. As a theme with variations - resembling a theme from the incidental music to the play Rosamunde and also appearing in the second movement of the String Quartet in A Minor - this is graceful and delicate as it plays with five extended variations. Polischuck's tone is both light and full as he facilely dances over the notes. He resists melodramatic dynamic shifts as the piece ventures into more sensational territory. Overall, despite there being moments of beauty and clarity - such as the driving sequence of triplets in the Impromptu in A flat major - Polischuck's Impromptus fail to recognise the structure and form of these pieces. In the Impromptu in F minor (No. 4) he lacks the frenzy and urgency which wrestles with Schubert's 3/8 meter and emblazoned coda. The results sound glib; there is a distinct lack of vitality in a piece which is perhaps the most technically demanding of the Impromptus. Employing a wide variety of keyboard writing, including scale runs (at times in unison), arpeggios, broken chords, quick passages in thirds and trills along with extreme harmonic and rhythmic effects, combined with demonically charming melodies, this has the potential to be a dazzling and fascinating display of keyboard prowess. Here it sounds rather humdrum. For a recording that extracts the quietude and unquantifiable nausea (in Sartre's sense of the word), I recommend Cordelia Williams's recording (SOMMCD 0127) whose performance demonstrates brilliant technique, flexibility and well measured emotive input.
Dark and otherworldly, Osborne's Terra Incognita is indeed unknown territory both for listener and performer. Using mallets to play on the strings and frame, Polischuck extracts threatening, percussive sounds to alert and startle. Launching forth with clashing chords in Mare Incognitum, this movement develops to embody the tumbling of waves and the expansive swell of the ocean. Osborne's composition holds the interest as he uses Indonesian rhythms and finishes with an Okinawan melody - more commonly known as Ryukyuan music from the Southern Islands of Japan - to bring otherworldly melodies home. With hints of Mompou and Debussy, Osborne's opening to Terra Pericolosa is impressionistic. Polischuck shapes these phrases with alert spontaneity and excitement. A startling sense of discovery is felt in the clusters of chords at the close. Lastly, Terra Nullius (no man's land) juxtaposes a fragment of an incomplete Schubert song with 'Kaulana Na Pua' - 'Famous are the Flowers', a well-known Hawaiian song. By muting the strings of the piano and playing with the extremes of the piano's range - even strumming the strings to produce lute-like sounds - Polischuck conveys Osborne's fascination and enchantment. Here is that sense of discovery of uncharted lands and travels beyond the boundaries all conjured through the use of untraditional techniques.
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