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Pianist Valery Afanassiev – renowned for strikingly individual and deeply introspective interpretations of the music of Franz Schubert – has now paired two often extrovert works by the composer: the set of six Moments musicaux and the Sonata D850. Recorded in September 2010 at the Auditorio Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano, this is ECM’s second solo Schubert release by the Moscow-born pianist, having previously issued a live recording of Afanassiev performing Schubert’s final Sonata D960 at the 1985 Lockenhaus Festival that has become a much-discussed favourite among connoisseurs.

Composed from 1823 to 1827, the year before the composer’s death at age 31, the Moments musicaux brim with song and dance, as well as Schubert’s characteristic mood swings from major to minor, from light to dark, often within a single piece. With its glittering surface, the brief No. 3 in F minor was one of Schubert’s more popular piano pieces for decades; but the ballroom-worthy tune has an odd tension underneath, as if the party were bound to end early. No. 1 in C Major has melodies reminiscent of the composer’s Winterreise, while the two in A-flat Major, Nos. 2 and 6, tap rich veins of melancholy, particularly in Afanassiev’s interpretations. No. 4 in C-sharp minor is another number that swirls like a woman dancing with tears in her eyes. No. 5 in F minor is the set’s lone thoroughly fast-paced number, although even its up-tempo leaps have a brittle quality.

The Sonata D850, written in 1825, is one of Schubert’s most ebullient piano sonatas – with Ländler-like melodies, simulated horn calls and strongly syncopated rhythms; he composed the piece over three weeks in the spa town of Gastein, so the environment undoubtedly contributed to the sonata’s high spirits. Yet, as with so many works by this composer, there are also passages in D850 pregnant with nostalgia and emotional ambiguity, especially in the Con moto second movement, which Afanassiev explores with meditative concentration.

Valery Afanassiev was born in Moscow in 1947 and studied at the Moscow Conservatory under Jacob Zak and, subsequently, Emil Gilels. He has won two major international competitions: the Bach Competition in Leipzig (1968) and Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels (1972). In 1974, he requested political asylum in Belgium; since his defection to the West, he has given concerts throughout Europe, Japan and the U.S.

An author as well as a musician, Afanassiev has recorded more than 30 CDs, the liner notes for which he writes himself, aiming to give the listener a total picture of his insight into the composer’s mind – a guided tour through an alchemical laboratory in which poetry, philosophy, painting, the Kabbalah and even wine, as much as musical notation, may be taken as points of reference. A musical partner of Gidon Kremer for many years, Afanassiev recorded Schubert and Brahms chamber pieces with the violinist. The pianist has also recorded major solo works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mussorgsky, among others.

Afanassiev has written 14 novels: nine in English, five in French. He has also written 14 books of poetry in English and three in Russian, a book of long stories, a book of short stories, a huge commentary on Dante’s Commedia, three books of essays and two theatrical pieces inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition and Kreisleriana, in both of which he performs as pianist and actor (in four languages). He has written a play based on Kafka’s In the Penal Colony during which he performs Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari. He has also conducted various international orchestras.

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