Edna Stern’s Schubert On Tape

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 6

Technologically speaking, Edna Stern goes time traveling for her latest release, which contains unedited performances of Schubert’s Moments musicaux and Impromptus D. 899, all recorded to analogue tape. The close, intimate engineering of her Bösendorfer piano is enhanced by a dry yet full-bodied studio ambience. Indeed, the sonics evoke the slightly nasal timbral character of André Charlin’s 1950s piano recordings for Les Discophiles Français with Marcelle Meyer, Lili Kraus, and Yves Nat.

Stern’s booklet notes explain her desire to capture the unvarnished authenticity of vintage early LP-era piano recordings by artists she admires like Wilhelm Backhaus, Wilhelm Kempff, Georges Cziffra, and the aforementioned Nat. That’s all well and good, except for one small fact: all of these pianists took advantage of tape editing! Because she does not avail herself of this option, Stern’s aspirations toward discographic “authenticity” yield largely inhibited results.

Her Moments musicaux, for example, sound reticent and tepid next to Yves Nat’s firmly etched (if admittedly uneven) renditions. Would she have played such a square, clunky, and tentative C-sharp minor No. 4, knowing that she could patch in edits later on? Would she have fixed the C minor Impromptu’s overpedaled passages? True, Stern’s E-flat Impromptu is pretty on the surface, but her unevenly executed right-hand triplets yield to Rudolf Firkusny’s superior polish and poise, among early LP-era traversals. At least the G-flat Impromptu receives a relaxed and carefully balanced reading, while Stern saves her supplest pianism for No. 4 in A-flat, notwithstanding her constricted dynamic range.

Yet all the antiquated recording equipment in the world cannot turn Edna Stern into a memorable Schubert player. Ironically, Stern sounds more like the “dead pianist” she desperately wants to be in her digitally engineered and edited Bach recordings, which reveal her artistry at its imaginative, audacious, and uninhibited best.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: Schubert On Tape
Reference Recording: Impromptus D. 899: Lupu (Decca); Pires (DG), Moments musicaux: Curzon (Decca)

  • Edna Stern (piano)

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