Schubert, Moments musicaux / Impromptus, D. Fray
(released on November 3, 2009)
Virgin Classics 50999 694489 0 4
Moments musicaux (D. 780)
Impromptus (D. 899)
Allegretto in C minor (D. 915)
B. Newbould, Schubert:
The Music and the Man
Schubert the Progressive:
History, Performance Practice,
Analysis, ed. B. Newbould
No real composer, however, can produce reams of functional art without having his true musical instincts engaged from time to time. Schubert's dances do sometimes reveal the real Schubert, the creator of the tiny gem-like Lied or the moment musical. And sometimes a link with the grander musical forms emerges. One has to listen or sight-read patiently to unearth the treasure amid this bulky oeuvre, which in end-to-end performance would probably outlast six symphonies. An enlightened musicological survey of this field is overdue. (p. 339)Newbould observes that the best of this body of occasional music, especially the impromptus, Moments musicaux, and Klavierstücke, "were well suited to performance by Schubert himself at social gatherings, whether they were musical evenings or artistic mixed-media soirées, but they sometimes touch the world of the sonata, just as they often embody the dance spirit" (p. 341). At their best, these pieces have a delicacy about them, traces of melodic genius coupled to harmonic and formal wandering. Fray plays them with a restrained yet singing touch that is both nostalgic, lost in itself, and aware of the impending doom that must have been at the back of Schubert's mind no matter how much he tried to escape it. Fray manages to capture that elusive quality, what Newbould calls "the essence of Schubert the somnambulist, lost in a world of his own which knows no mundane measure of time" (p. 343).
At times, however, Fray veers almost too closely to the edge of preciousness, with a sense of rubato that borders on the cloying -- if not really crossing into it. He is able to make you think about these rather familiar pieces, the impromptus and Moments musicaux, in different ways, prompting me to try some of them out at the keyboard again recently, to attempt to reproduce his style of interpretation. I could not really do that, of course, but it is always exciting to look at a familiar piece a new way. Fray's recording also brought the little C minor Allegretto (D. 915, 1827) back to my ears after a long absence, in a performance that matches Newbould's description of this affecting miniature: "the embodiment of poetic thought of the highest order, matching economy and simplicity to brevity in a way that induces in an audience the rapt silence in which pins are heard to drop" (p. 345).
David Fray will return to the United States this spring, to play Beethoven's second piano concerto with the San Francisco Symphony (May 7 and 8), under guest conductor Christoph Eschenbach.