Edna Stern

Edna Stern plays Chopin

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Frédéric Chopin's solo piano music is most often heard on modern grand pianos, and because of the increased volume, improved mechanisms, and greater strength of these instruments over the smaller, quieter models of composer's day, the quality of sound production is considerably different than what he heard. To the extent that Chopin's musical world can be re-created, it's necessary to find pianos from the early to mid-19th century that still retain their essential colors and function as smoothly as possible. For her 2010 album of the Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, the Trois nouvelles études, and a selection of ballades, waltzes, and preludes, Edna Stern plays an 1842 Pleyel piano, of the vintage and design that was known to Chopin and which had the same operational features before the development of modern double-escapement action. This is a dark-hued piano, with a slightly muted, subdued quality that requires extra effort from Stern to sound bright where it needs to and a great variety of attacks to produce the timbres in between. Because of its age and perhaps also because this is a museum piece, the soft quality of the tone is caused by the preservationist coverings of the hammers, and Stern's pedaling creates an aural halo that sometimes can seem too blurred. Still, the nature of the selections tends toward the brooding and reflective side, and this velvety, somewhat muffled tone seems wholly appropriate in such dark and desolate pieces as the Marche funebre or the Prelude in C minor. But the absence of flashy or stormy pieces suggests a degree of caution in the handling of this historic piano, so the tendency of the pieces to be slow and calm may in part reflect this concern. Bearing in mind that Chopin preferred to use Pleyels when he wanted greater control of his sound, and that much of his music was profoundly influenced by these instruments' capabilities, it is instructive to hear his music played on them, and Stern provides a valuable service by choosing a Pleyel for this recording.

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