Ravishingly Romantic Bach from Edna Stern

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Edna Stern’s 2005 Bach recital on the Zig-Zag Territories label represented an unabashedly Romantic and ravishingly pianistic attitude to this composer that has long passed into history. Few modern pianists can pull off such an approach, but Stern’s sincerity, conviction, and masterful control of the concert grand was both disarming and mesmerizing. The same can be said about her First, Second, and Sixth Partitas.

Stern has tempered her style somewhat, and applies the sustain pedal more conservatively. Still, the performances abound with diminuendo/crescendo hairpins, boundless tonal inflections, and captivating character. Repeated sections feature alternations in dynamics and imaginative ornaments such as in the Sarabande movements. Big-boned legato lines alternate with deliciously pointed detaché articulation, notably in the Correntes. Listen, for example, to the E minor Partita’s Corrente, and notice how Stern’s contrasts between legato and staccato vivify Bach’s syncopated appogiaturas, abetted by the swift basic tempo.

I played samples of Stern’s Partitas for a professional pianist who professes to be a Bach specialist. He tore into Stern for this and that stylistic digression, citing Murray Perahia’s musical superiority whenever possible. Then he sheepishly confessed, “But, you know, if I could play Bach like Edna Stern, I would!” Enough said. I look forward to her remaining three Partitas.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: ME-SU-BACH
Reference Recording: Perahia (Sony), Zhu Xiao-Mei (Mirare), Hewitt (Hyperion), Schiff (ECM)

  • BACH, J.S.:
    Partitas No. 1 in B-flat major; No. 2 in C minor; No. 6 in E minor
  • Edna Stern (piano)

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