All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Schubert On Tape (Edna Stern)

Edna Stern (piano) (Orchid Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

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.

Michael Church

More reviews

Symphonies by Schumann and Tchaikovsky conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini

Georg Solti conducts the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic in performances of Symphonies by Beethoven and Schubert

The Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt perform Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos 1 & 7

Xavier Phillips and Les Dissonances perform Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 5

Juanjo Mena conducts the BBC Philharmonic in a performance of Ginastera’s Panambí and Piano Concerto No. 2


Valery Gergiev conducts the Munich Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2