Stern Lets the Piano Convey A Full Range of Emotions


Edna Stern performing at the Goethe Institut Jakarta (Photo courtesy of Tunggul Wirajuda)

The pianist seemed to embrace the solitude of the stage, as she broke into the contemplative strains of Mozart’s “Fantasia no. 3 in D Minor” K. 397, composed in 1782 and left unfinished at the time of his death nine years later.

She managed to capture the profound feelings of the piece, and went into the flourishes, which highlight the emotional undercurrents of the highly structured composition. A whole spectrum of feelings were explored at her fingertips, including sadness, depression and loneliness, before the upbeat, intricate finale wrapped up the composition on a high note.

The pianist is none other than Belgian soloist Edna Stern, who was brought in by the IFI French Cultural Center to enthrall music lovers with her piano virtuosity at the Goethe-Institut cultural center in Central Jakarta on Saturday, following a recital at IFI’s branch in Bandung on Wednesday last week.

Featuring a repertoire of 18th and 19th century piano pieces from greats such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, the music of the 36-year-old’s debut tour in Indonesia range from the grand Baroque composition of Couperin’s “La Monflambert,” the graceful rococo of Venetian composer Baldassare Galuppi’s “Sonata in D Minor,” to the more familiar sounds of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

“The piano pieces explore various emotions, particularly on another level. This is often the case as composers like Mozart often explore relations with God,” Stern said. “Mozart’s pieces are perhaps the most complicated to play, because its challenging to grasp a deeper level of his compositions. Sure the pieces are beautiful, simple and graceful on the outside, but getting into the spirit that drives them is an entirely different matter.”

Stern, who is also a lecturer at the Royal College of Music in London, preferred to let her hands do the talking, as she launched her take on Mozart’s “Turkish March.” Her interpretation did justice to its deft, weaving piano flourishes, though its comparatively gentle to the piece’s famously frenetic, almost manic flow before getting into the piece’s crescendos.

On the other hand, Stern’s rendition of the Austrian great’s Twelve Variations on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” (“Ah, if you say so, Mother”), which is more familiar to modern audiences as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” captured the intricate craft of Mozart’s piano work. The flourishes explored various emotions and feelings, ranging from its eloquent start before going into a playful, childlike mood in its middle sections. Stern managed to highlight the flowing style that drives the work and its changing hue of moods, which explored a more pensive side to Mozart’s personality, before wrapping up the piece in an intricate interplay of notes and sounds in a crescendo towards its end.

But perhaps the piece that sums up Stern’s recital best is her take on Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata.

“The Pathetique Sonata is ground-breaking because even though its made in the Classical Age, it helped usher in the Romantic Age in the 19th century,” said Stern, whose virtuoso skills with the piano took her on tours around the world, from Western Europe to Russia, Canada, Japan and South Korea.

Stern captured the piece’s essence from its opening bars, which unleashes the pathos and deep emotions Beethoven is best known for. The intensity and drama that defined the piece is also there, as are the frenetic flourishes that convey the complex, bewildering emotions that drive the piece.

“I also can relate to the ‘Pathetique’ as a composition, because it wears its emotions on its sleeve,” she added.

This is perhaps best heard in the sonata’s renowned second movement, which tenderly conveys a dialogue between a man and a woman.

Stern brought out the tender, contemplative mood of the movement, well and managed to tap into the deep seated, profound emotions that made it so iconic. The third movement is no less intricate, as the piano flourishes belie a study of emotions that are as deep as they are complex.

But the piano pieces are by no means the only items up Stern’s sleeve. Much to the audience’s surprise and delight she launched into a selection of later 19th century and early 20th century piano pieces, namely Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude” and Prokofiev’s “Diabolical Suggestions.”

Aside from the recitals, Stern will also share her know-how during a workshop at the Gitanada School of Music in Jakarta before she heads back to Europe.

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe on January 21, 2014

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