4 Impromptus, D899; Six Moments Musicaux, D780
Edna Stern (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC100192 53:38 mins
My most treasured CD is part of the much-vaunted ‘Great Pianists of the 20th Century’ series put together by the top brains of the record industry in 1999. On it, Alfred Cortot comes hopelessly to grief in the rapid opening flourishes of Kreisleriana, not just once, but worsening with each reiteration: diddly-diddly-diddly-diddly-splat! It’s wonderfully comic. Anguished execs sent urgent recall messages – ‘It was a mistake!!’ But my copy was too precious to send back. There’s no place for flawed humanity in the patched recordings of today.
Edna Stern eloquently makes this point in the liner to her album Schubert on Tape, though not to exonerate herself for wrong notes. She recalls listening to the first edit of her Schumann disc: ‘I was shocked to encounter an interpretation that I myself could never have played, or even imagined.’ It felt ‘like a monster, some hybrid creature constructed from bits and pieces’ assembled by someone else. She likens the difference between a patched digital recording and an analogue one to the difference between a human and a robot. Unless we’re doing a Warhol, we don’t Photoshop a Cézanne. So this recording was made directly to tape, with no editing.
You could put it another way – it’s simply a live recording. That’s how I listen to it, and on the whole it’s an interesting piece of work. It’s Stern’s interpretation, rather than anything mechanical, which prevents my enjoying the fourth Impromptu, and which irritates me at the mannered opening of the first Moment Musicaux. Otherwise there is much to enjoy here: the grave beauty of the first Impromptu, the eager warmth of the third, the charm of the fourth Moment Musicaux, and the understated but poignant regret of the final one. Schubert wrote all this music as he was dying, and here we sense that.