No 1 in C minor: Allegro molto moderato
No 2 in E flat major: Allegro
No 3 in G flat major: Andante
No 4 in A flat major: Allegretto
The first of the D899 Impromptus has the breadth of a Schubertian sonata movement, though it is not in fact in sonata form. The entire piece grows out of the unaccompanied march-like melody with which it begins. The stark march rhythm eventually gives way to a new version of the same theme over a smoothly rippling accompaniment; and by a stroke of genius Schubert expands the tiny turn-like closing phrase of this section into a floating melody, before getting down to the business of developing the main subject in earnest.
The second Impromptu, in E flat major, contrasts its rapidly flowing outer sections with an explosive middle section in the key of B minor. The coda juxtaposes the same two tonalities in an attempt to reconcile them; but since it is dominated throughout by the material of the dramatic middle section, Schubert takes the bold and highly unorthodox step of allowing the piece to come to a violent close in the minor. The effect was not lost on Brahms, whose last piano piece, the Rhapsody, Op 119 No 4, in the same key of E flat major, also reaches a despairing conclusion in the minor.
Carl Haslinger’s insensitivity in transposing the third Impromptu up a semitone into G major is thrown into greater relief when Nos 2 and 3 are played, as they should be, in succession: G flat is the relative major of E flat minor, the key in which the preceding piece comes to rest, and this song without words can thus be heard, at least in part, as a resolution of that uneasy conclusion.
While the second Impromptu had progressed from the airy major to the dark minor, the final piece of the set undergoes the reverse process. It takes a full thirty bars before its rippling minor-mode beginning is transformed into the major; and a further sixteen before the music’s latent melody at last emerges in the left hand. As for the trio section, with its pulsating accompaniment, it consists of a single long-spun theme of aching expressiveness.
from notes by Misha Donat © 1996