Rachmaninov: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; transcriptions

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Rachmaninov
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Variations on a Theme of Corelli; transcriptions
PERFORMER: Olga Kern (piano)
Solid, key-deep fingerwork and a penetrating, steel-edged sonority are prerequisites for playing Rachmaninov, and also charactise Olga Kern’s considerable pianism. Her musical ideas, however, don’t always allow this composer to sing out fully and take wing. In the main she views the Corelli Variations as separate, seemingly unrelated pieces, rather than linking them through carefully considered tempo relationships, as Vladimir Ashkenazy does to more cumulative effect. The climactic variations, moreover, become strident and slightly monochrome in their loudest moments. Similarly, the transcriptions offer hit-and-miss results. Little sense of line and inner drama permeates Kern’s generic efficiency in the Liszt Second Rhapsody (let alone Rachmaninov’s diabolic cadenza), yet she enlivens the Suite from Bach’s E major Violin Partita with rarely heard inner voices and imaginative accents. Kern’s artificial-sounding rubatos in the Schubert ‘Wohin?’, plus her inelegant, stop/start manner of phrasing throughout Kreisler’s Liebesleid and Liebesfreud suggest she’s not too familiar with the originals, or perhaps with Rachmaninov’s incomparable recordings. By contrast, Freidrich Höricke’s suaver, shapelier performances on MDG (and Ashkenazy’s on Decca for that matter) have considerably more grace, charm and harmonic awareness, if not quite Harmonia Mundi’s sonic presence. Jed Distler