Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: No. 2 in b?; No. 3 in b
Olga Kern (pn)
HARMONIA MUNDI 907464 (59:00)
Olga Kern is a justly acclaimed pianist whose career took off when she won the Van Cliburn Competition in 2001. She has recorded Rachmaninoff and an earlier Chopin recital and now has made a distinctive, if not always convincing, recording of Chopin’s two great sonatas. Kern plays boldly, letting the first chords of the Second Sonata resonate massively. Others I have just listened to, including the Nelson Freire
recording, are more sensitive later. I found in the restless first movement and elsewhere Kern emphasizes shifts in tempo and not so much the subtler shifts in tone and dynamics. Her Chopin is, then, relatively aggressive. When the music is either heavy or, at the other extreme, fleet, as in the two finales here, she carries me along.
I have trouble, though, with the (in my experience) slow tempos of several of the movements, including the famous funeral march, which, with her heavy pounding of the chords, moves heavily, something like a construction project, and which makes the sensitive second subject seem oddly unrelated. I have the same issue with the Largo of the Third Sonata. The weightiness of Kern’s playing is not a fault in itself, but when it interferes with the rhythmic flow of a movement, it becomes problematic. There are so many good qualities in the playing here, and in the recording, that I am almost hoping other listeners disagree. We shouldn’t ignore this new performance, nor forget those of previous giants such as Kapell, Rubinstein, or more recently, Pollini.
FANFARE: Michael Ullman
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