I read, long ago, a critic in the Sunday Times who I have forgotten the name of, saying something to the effect that "the more familiar we all are with a piece of music, the slower the tempo of the performance." I've tried to track that thought in listening to various performances over the years since I first read the article, and I must say that it isn't always true. Yet it is an interesting idea. Sometimes performers will linger a bit over music we know and love, sometimes they will increase the tempo of something to make it more exciting.
One thing that great performers will do with a well-loved body of music is to speak the music with their own personal voice, so to say. So they may indeed linger over passages, vary the attack, take some movements at a faster pace than is the norm, apply rubato in non-standard ways, articulate phrases with a special touch, in general bring out the music in ways that make us hear it anew.
That is what pianist Valery Afanassiev has done wonderfully on his new recording of Schubert's Moments musicaux and the Piano Sonata D. 850 (ECM New Series 2215).
Like a great actor will make a well known line from Shakespeare speak to us emphatically by using his own voice and inflection in a special way, Maestro Afanassiev brings out some of Schubert's most melodically unforgettable music by giving loving attention to every phrase, by giving life to the music with his own voice.
It is a marvelously poetic performance to be had on these tracks. He makes the piano speak with extraordinary, movingly beautiful eloquence. It is the sort of performance perhaps that can only come out of living with the music over a long period of time, of coming to know and love the music intimately, of hearing something in every phase and bringing all of it to our ears with an absorbed attention that makes it all new and wonderful. This is a must-not-miss for all Schubert lovers.