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Schubert’s Impromptus are not without their quirks and curiosities, and Shuann Chai used Extemporize as an opportunity to delve deeper into them. In doing so she was also introduced to the two delightful Fugues (D 24a and D 24c ) that accompany the impromptus on this album.
Schubert’s Impromptus drew Shuann Chai in because they are full of contradictions. An ‘impromptu’ suggests a piece that’s light in character, not too dramatic, not very long the opposite of, say, a sonata in four movements. While these Impromptus are musically very approachable, they are also powerful, often quite dark, deep, and pianistically challenging. Also, the suggested element of improvisation is interwoven with a feeling of narrative. There are certainly moments of capriciousness or surprising modulations throughout, but the pieces themselves are very formally organized much more prescribed than what one would expect, say, in a ‘fantasy’. What intrigued her was this tension between spontaneity and structure, a paradox which Schubert exploits and expands to great dramatic effect.
This paradox can also be found in the Fugues on this album. Fugues and Impromptus are at first sight to very different forms of music: they are constructed in almost diametrically opposite ways, but artistically speaking, they are two sides of the same coin. Schubert’s fugues are searching for the freedom within their strict contrapuntal framework, and his Impromptus are works of imagination and great expression that are grounded by their formal architecture.
The album title, Extemporize, also has different sides. The dictionary defines ‘extemporize’ as “to speak or perform without prior planning; to act in an impromptu manner” (italics added), suggesting, again, improvisation and spontaneous expression. ‘Extemporize’ comes from the Latin ‘ex tempore’, which means ‘out of time’. Taken literally, that’s what happened to Schubert: he ran out of time dying at such a young age full of plans for the future.
Shuann Chai is a soloist and chamber musician who performs on a wide range of early to modern pianos, bringing the emotional content of music from the past to listeners in the present. Recognized by critics as “a graceful virtuoso”, she has been praised for performances that are “sensitive and communicative, …full of warmth an emotion.”
Shuann Chai, Fortepiano
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 01:22:35
Ernst Coutinho, Tom Peeters
Bruel & Kjaer 4003, Neumann modified by Rens Heijnis Neumann KU-100 (Binaural) modified by Rens Heijnis Sonodere MPM-81
|Original Recording Format
|Producer, recording engineer
Westvest90, Schiedam, The Netherlands
|January 8, 2024
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