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Gabriel Stern’s Auspicious Liszt Etudes

Jed Distler

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

The French/Israeli pianist Gabriel Stern first came to my attention with his decent if rather matter-of-fact Bach Goldberg Variations release on Lyrinx. Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, however, show off Stern’s artistry in far more flattering and three-dimensional light. Although Stern unquestionably possesses the technique and temperament to project these works across the proverbial footlights, he treats the etudes first and foremost like music, rather than athletic stunts.

The second etude’s persistently broken chords never sound notey or clangorous, because of Stern’s attention to inner melodies and cross-rhythmic phrases. Paysage also benefits from subtle polyphonic ebb and flow, while the pianist’s long-lined sweep and ear for textural perspective presents a more fluid, less cluttered Mazeppa than usual.

While Feux follets’ swift right-hand double notes fly like the wind, Stern realizes that much of this etude’s beauty lies within the left hand. He builds up Vision’s climaxes carefully, in contrast to most pianists who get too loud too soon. Eroica’s dotted rhythms and dramatic pauses are timed with the savvy of a great actor, although Wilde Jagd’s broken octaves could use more ferocity and abandon, not to mention more sustain pedal. I detect similar inhibition in Ricordanza’s climaxes, although the lyrical passages and long trills define gorgeousness.

If the untitled No. 10 doesn’t quite achieve Evgeny Kissin’s virtuosic scintillation, Stern’s control and sophisticated aligning of the textural strands impress on their own terms. Stern’s pellucid delicacy throughout Chasse-neige makes you forget how this piece often turns into an endless tremolo etude in the wrong hands, while the pianist’s Harmonies du soir achieves a lovely fusion of eloquence and understatement.

This is an auspicious Liszt Etude cycle that will grow on you over repeated hearings, and is worth considering alongside the reference editions, the historic Cziffra and Berman recordings, and (if you can find it) a touching version by the tragically short-lived Natalia Strelchenko.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Arrau (Decca); Simon (BIS)

    Soloists: Gabriel Stern (piano)

  • Record Label: Mirare - 596
  • Medium: CD

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