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David Fray returns to Schubert with his much-anticipated second recording of the composer's piano music, a
collection of passionate late works. Along with the Sonata in G D894 'Fantaisie' and the Hungarian Melody D817,
Fray presents two duets for piano four-hands, both composed in the last year of Schubert's life: the Fantasy in F
minor D940 and the towering Allegro in A minor D947, 'Lebenssturme' ('Storms of Life'). Fray invited Jacques
Rouvier, his mentor and renowned teacher from the Paris Conservatoire, to join him in the studio, making this
album a true labor of love.
"I wish there were more CDs of Schubert's piano music like this- a well-planned programme but also a recital welcoming the claim of the four-hand works to be heard alongside the great solo sonatas and pieces." --Stephen Plaistow, Gramophone Choice, May 2015
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Fray's approach is very treble-heavy. He focuses on the melodic line, and takes great care to de-emphasise middle and bass lines, including the lower notes in right-hand thirds, sixths and octaves. In the F-minor Fantasia, Jacques Rouvier (who I assume is playing the bass part) can often barely be heard. If this approach to Schubert – a legitimate one – is to your taste (it isn't quite to mine), you will like it, because he pulls it off very well.
The other notable aspect of Fray’s approach is that he does pianissimo excellently, but does not offer a great deal of dynamic contrast. Stormier parts such as the fortissimo outburst in the Andante of the D. 894 feel like being slapped with wet lettuce. I also prefer a more powerful approach in the Fantasia. As Norman Lebrecht puts it, “his piano does not play forte”.
Fray's tempi are judicious, both at macro and micro levels. In the D. 894, the opening movement is some way slower than the mean (nowhere near Richter though) but never feels too slow and suits Fray’s overall approach.
The recording quality is top-notch.
The bottom line is that I don’t see 19 US dollars in this. It’s worth a listen on Spotify but at that price, and for the few works in the album (only one full sonata), it’s not one for the permanent collection. Harmonia Mundi is offering more for less in Paul Lewis’ ongoing cycle.
I was inclined towards four stars for the album's merits, but I give it three on value for money. I’m more looking forward to Daniel-Ben Pienaar’s forthcoming Schubert cycle, which I imagine will come at Schubert from a very different direction.