Valery Afanassiev

Schubert: Moments musicaux

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Russian pianist Valery Afanassiev recorded an album of Schubert's late piano sonatas that inspired wildly divergent reactions with its tremendously unorthodox readings. This release on ECM shares much with the earlier album, and it may too be one of those things you either love or hate. As with the earlier release, CD buyers will get Afanassiev's own quirky but far from dull notes, which range over topics from Goethe's Faust to Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 to Japanese philosophy. Afanassiev once again favors slow tempos. They're not quite as extreme as on the sonata album, but his approach is similar: he presents, so to speak, exploded views of each phrase of Schubert's music. His lines are fantastically detailed without being particularly expressive, and this is probably what fascinates some listeners while driving others crazy. It may be that his Schubert playing works better in some pieces than in others. The six Moments Musicaux, D. 780, will really make you sit up and take notice. What Afanassiev catches here is that these works (not a set, but substantial little pieces far from the bonbons that the publisher-supplied title would suggest) were written for an intimate, sophisticated audience that would have gotten his Faust references and would have been interested in a performance that explores the structure of the music in the way he does. The Piano Sonata in D major, D. 850, is not nearly as successful; the limpid central movements simply plod. The very fine sound and the overall abstract quality of ECM's presentation both work as X factors in favor of what many will still find a slightly bizarre recording, but one that can't be easily dismissed.

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