Chopin, Sonata No. 2 / Ballades /
Preludes / Nouvelles Etudes, E. Stern
(released on April 27, 2010)
Naïve AM 197 | 1h04
Chopin's First Editions Online
Chopin et Pleyel (2010)
After recording this disc last December, Stern played a concert on this piano as part of a Chopin marathon at the Cité de la musique, in connection with the exhibit Chopin à Paris, l'Atelier du Compositeur, well worth an online look (or on site in Paris, but only through June 6). The hammers of this instrument, found still covered in their original leather, have been restored, and the surprising thing about its mellow sound is how it can veer from a thunderous boom to a surprisingly transparent piano. The almost brittle sound of the high treble range, as at the fifth measure of the "Presto con fuoco" section of the second ballade, for example, is used by Stern to surprising effect. The same is true of the enigmatic fourth movement of the second sonata, which sounds here like a murky wash of notes. The Pleyel has a single-action mechanism, which Stern admits forces her to slow some passages down to make them technically possible -- it also "requires a wide variety of touch" to draw forth all of its possible colors. Perhaps partially as a result, Stern plays with a rubato that can border at times on the extreme, perhaps in line with what Matthew Guerrieri recently described as Chopin's own peculiar way of stretching the rhythm in his own works.
Stern, whose recent Bach recordings have been impressive, is a thoughtful and assured pianist, not necessarily driven only by the desire to impress with a technical blaze of glory. In her career she has avoided competitions, focusing instead on periods of advanced study -- with Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, Leon Fleischer -- and on her discovery of the fortepiano, which she says "has transformed her approach to music." This disc is not recommended for listeners who prefer their Chopin on the modern piano, but as a possible peek into the sonic past, it is more than a curiosity.