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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
“Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” - excerpts from the Well Tempered Clavier: Book I (BWV 847, 851, 852, 854-857, 860, 862, 864, 866, 867)
Chorales by Bach (transc. Busoni) and Brahms
Edna Stern (piano)
rec. Studio Sequenza (Montreuil 93), April 2008


Experience Classicsonline

Great music intelligently put together and terrifically played. This latest Bach recording on the ZigZag Territoires label is all but assured a spot among my favorite recordings of this year. Edna Stern is a student of Krystian Zimerman and Leon Fleisher.

If she had only played a selection of Preludes and Fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier, and even if she had played them as well as she does on “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland”, the disc might have gotten a spin, a very favorable notice, and then slipped into the recesses of my Bach saturated mind. But sending three Prelude & Fugue pairs into the race, preceded by a transcribed Bach chorale each - one of these four Chorale/Prelude packages comes with Brahms’ Bach-like op.122 no.5, instead - lifts it well above the pack of Bach-on-the-Piano recitals. “Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland” starts with the eponymous chorale (BWV 659) in Busoni’s transcription. Stern’s idea is to treat Bach as a vocal and orchestral composer. Apart from justification for playing harpsichord works on the piano - as if any was still necessary – this frees her to explore all the advantages of the piano’s range of shades and colors, rather than treating it ‘harpsichordesque’. Might as well, when the result is Bach in such luxuriant sound, indulgent in beauty, yet never fussy. 

Consciously working her way from C minor to E-flat major, she not only excels in “Schmuecke dich O liebe Seele” (Brahms), Ich ruf’zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639 from Das Orgelbüchlein Part 3, trans. Busoni), and “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (BWV 645 from Cantata BWV 140, trans. Busoni), but in several Fugues and especially Preludes, too. BWV 855 in E minor, 851 in D minor, and 866 B-flat Major are gorgeous renditions that would do any pianist proud. With such a very different concept and content than Alexandre Tharaud’s Concertos italiens my Bach-on-Piano CD of choice above all others — it’s not surprising that Mlle. Stern’s performance appeals in dissimilar ways. More something for the mind and reflection rather than the happily emotional recital of the Frenchman; doubtless a disc any Bach lover would find him- or herself marveling at. 

Jens F Laurson 



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