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LEBRECHT LISTENS | "How Will I Ever Find ‘Impromptu’ Again"?

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Impromptu – Beethoven, Chopin, Dvoak, Gershwin, Ives, Liszt & Schubert | Shai Wosner
Impromptu – Beethoven, Chopin, Dvoak, Gershwin, Ives, Liszt & Schubert | Shai Wosner

Impromptu (Onyx)

★★★★ (out of five)

The trouble with keeping records is that library science has yet to devise a method of telling you where any piece of music will be just when you really need it. The Schumann piano concerto, for instance. If I look under Schumann, I find two versions. But then there are four more under Grieg — that’s how the record industry likes to pair them up — and heaven knows how many more in box sets of the lifetime works of individual great pianists. 

Online, it’s no easier, since the same recording will crop up a dozen times under different covers or catalogue numbers and you can waste a whole morning trying to isolate that one half-recollected Clifford Curzon recording of coruscating brilliance. Where the hell is it? (Update: it’s under Franck).

This is what makes Shai Wosner’s new release so frustrating. A fabulous pianist, incapable of touching an ugly note, Wosner interleaves miniatures of Schubert with matching — at times, surprising — snips by Dvorak, Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Gershwin and Charles Ives. I enjoyed the record first time round. I revelled in the connections, especially Ives, on second hearing. But now I am poleaxed by the question of where to put this record once it leaves my desk.

Seriously, it’s a problem. How will I ever find ‘Impromptu’ again when I need it to compare with some other release? If you have a solution, do let me know.

For the purpose of this review, I very much appreciate what Wosner is doing, drawing out parallel strands of thought between composers of very different character. It is the best background music I have heard all year — like classical radio without the interminable blether, and it makes some mindless chores go faster. Maybe I should use it to start a ‘background music’ category on my groaning shelves? Help me out, here.

Impromptu (Onyx) is available at Amazon.ca and iTunes.

For more weekly reviews by Norman Lebrecht, see HERE.

Visit Slipped Disc HERE.

#MUSICALTORONTO

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