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GRAMOPHONE (10/2015)
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Orchid Classics

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Reviewer: Harriet Smith


Edna Stern should know all about colour: she’s a former pupil of Leon Fleisher and Krystian Zimerman after all. She writes an interesting essay about her thoughts on Bach and the modern piano and, in particular, the judicious use of pedal. Unfortunately one person’s ‘judicious use’ is another’s overindulgence. Whereas I’ve enjoyed Stern’s Mozart, with its pleasingly playful edge, here I’m far less convinced. It’s a frustrating listen because some movements come off well – her Corrente of the First Partita is an engaging conversation piece between the hands, while the Tempo di Gavotta of the Sixth is a gossamer delight. But these are the exceptions. Too often she seems overly interventionist, particularly in fast movements where a sense of unalloyed energy is key. Take the Gigue of No 1, which is peppered with slowings-down, then turn to Goode, Anderszewski or Perahia (to name just three) to hear how much more effective it sounds, whatever your favoured tempo. In the swirling Capriccio that ends the Second Partita, she soon gives in to agogic pauses (tr 12, 0'40", 0'50", 1'03", 1'35", and so it goes on…). I’m by no means purist when it comes to Bach but this is simply too interventionist. And that’s a word that could sum up her Sarabandes as well.


If Stern’s rubato in the First Partita’s Praeludium is mildly distracting, that in the opening Toccata of No 6 renders it rhythmically flaccid, fatally losing momentum – especially when heard alongside Anderszewski’s visionary interpretation. And in the same Partita’s Air she seems merely heavy-handed when compared to Perahia, who conveys so much yet with the simplest of means. So unless soft-focus Bach is your thing, I’d steer well clear.


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