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Impromptu No.1 in E Flat Major Op.25

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)


The five Impromptus (1883-1910) - the sixth is for harp and, in its later piano transcription, retains too many of its former characteristics to be fully convincing - move from an early Chopinesque bias (the influence of the elegantly effusive Impromptus Nos.1 and 3) to a more spare and elliptical utterance. The first makes exceptional demands on the pianist’s dexterity and its shimmering alternation of two long and two short phrases made Cortot speak of ’sunlit water’ and, in the central elaboration, a ’stylized coquetry and regret’. The tarantella whirl of No.2 is achieved with much greater textural transparency and in No.3, one of Fauré’s most sheerly delightful creations, he achieves a scintillating and witty virtuosity without even a trace of theatricality, false rhetoric or stridency. Basically, the first three Impromptus take two contrasted ideas before uniting them in a suitably exuberant close. The second idea of the third has been described as ’like an avenue of fans folding and unfolding,’ but the fourth and fifth Impromptus invite no such subjective fancy. Very much of another time and opus, the fourth, in particular, confounds all prediction or sense of continuity, splintering and fragmenting themes that are cut off before they can fully evolve, blossom or fulfil their natural potential. Previously ornate textures and rhythms give way to a spare yet ’difficult’ clarity and a central idea, where all possible strength or radiance is frustrated by the opposition of darker forces. Such clouding of spirits is savagely confirmed in No.5, a fierce and wintry jeu d’esprit with the breakdown of conventional tonality confidently flaunted rather than tentatively implied. The final grace notes, too, of this phantom chase are like a mocking parody of romantic cliché (the conclusion of Liapunov’s Danse des Sylphes), and the Impromptus could scarcely have ended on a more unsettling note.

© Bryce Morrison 1987

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