Schubert: Moments musicaux, D780

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Moments musicaux, D780; Impromptus, D899; Allegretto in C minor, D915
PERFORMER: David Fray (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 694 4890

Following his previous recordings of Bach and Boulez, this new disc finds the French pianist David Fray venturing for the first time into 19th-century territory. What’s immediately striking about his Schubert playing is its refinement, and variety of colour. In the melancholy unaccompanied theme that begins the first of the Impromptus, for instance, you can almost hear the plaintive sound of an oboe; while in No. 3 – a song without words in all but name – Fray allows the melody to sing in a genuine pianissimo, by making the inner-voice accompaniment sound like the murmur of a clarinet playing in its dark chalumeau register.
This is altogether some of the most beautiful pianissimo playing you’re likely to hear, and its intimate character is ideally suited to the world of the Moments musicaux, too. 
The opening of the second Impromptu, with its coruscating runs in constant triplet motion, can sometimes sound like a finger-exercise, but Fray’s sensibly steady tempo avoids any such danger.
The middle section, in the minor, is much darker and more dramatic, and Schubert brings it back in the coda (this is one of the very few major-mode pieces of its time to end in despairingly in the minor), urging the pianist into an accelerando.
Fray handles it all admirably, though it’s a pity he applies the brakes in the final bars, which ought instead to hurl us into the abyss. But this is a memorable recital, and no Schubert-lover should miss this. Misha Donat