Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moments musicaux D.780: No. 1 in C major [6:49]; No. 2 in A Flat major [7:37]; No. 3 in F major [2:09]; No. 4 in C sharp minor [6:20]; No. 5 in F minor [2:34]; No. 6 in A flat major [9:31]
Allegretto in C minor D.915 [6:02]
Impromptus D.899: No. 1 in C minor [10:34]; No. 2 in E flat major [5:19]; No. 3 in G flat major [6:19]; No. 4 in A flat major [8:31]
David Fray (piano)
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, April 2009
VIRGIN CLASSICS 6944890 [72:33]

Young poster-boy David Fray has acquired a reputation as something of a hot-head. If this is so then he has matured with this marvellous Schubert disc, full of nuanced playing, sensitivity to mood and mastery of shifting colours. While Fray is not yet in a position to challenge the most established interpreters of this music he is clearly getting very close.

The most exciting thing about this disc is the sheer sensitivity of the playing. Schubert’s finest music hovers on the membrane between joy and sorrow, delight and misery. Fray knows this and he shows an uncanny ability to reflect this ambivalence in his playing. There is no finer example of this than the A flat Moment Musicaux (No. 2): its sublimely beautiful opening, deep in its very simplicity, recurs often, but in Fray’s hands it is never the same twice - sometimes it is gentler and more questioning, sometimes wistful, sometimes with a tinge of sadness. The explosion of the minor key episode comes as a genuine shock, and the final recapitulation of the opening carries an air of uncertainty as to whether it can really resolve the tensions we have experienced. Fray writes in the (sometimes clumsy) CD notes about the fluidity and ambivalence of emotion in Schubert’s music, and he delivers it at its best in this piece.

Elsewhere the other movements are just as successful. The opening “alpine” call of the first Moment Musicaux sounds innocuous, almost naïve, but its return sounds delicate and edgy after the more penetrating central section. No. 3 in F minor sounds like a slow scherzo, quirky and impish rather than dark. No. 4 is vigorous and athletic in its workings out, but Fray suggests a core of vulnerability, while No. 6 is bright and clear where the other A flat Moment had sounded darker and suggestive. The only misjudgement is No. 5 in F minor, with heavy phrasing and lumpen tempo where more lightness is required.

The Impromptus are just as successful. No 1 has an unusually stern, hard minor key opening and when the music finally melts into the major it is all the more beautiful and subtle. No. 2 begins in filigree lightness with a dramatic growth in strength, while No. 3 encompasses moods as changeable as the flowing left hand figure that undulates throughout. His playing of No. 4 faces head-on the complete mystery of that opening theme: is it happy or sad - or something else altogether? Its “victory” sounds fleeting and unconvincing while the introspective central section feels much more persuasive.

In between the two groups, the Allegretto in C minor is an example of all that is best in both Schubert’s music and Fray’s playing. The questioning opening flits between minor and an insecure major, and when C major is finally achieved it is triumphant but fleeting. The colour seems to change beneath Fray’s fingers as he plays, and I can think of no better complement for the Schubert pianist.

So watch out Uchida and Brendel: a new kid on the block may well be ready to face up to you soon! This is a Schubert recital to make you sit up and take notice.

Simon Thompson