Olga Kern RACHMANINOV Sonata No. 2 BALAKIREV Islamey

Olga Kern's 2004 recording of transcriptions and variations by Rachmaninov was one of the great Rachmaninov recordings: soulful, sensual, strong, and deeply Slavic. Her 2005 recording of Rachmaninov's Second Piano Sonata along with his Morceaux de fantaisie is even better. For one thing, the music is better. Rachmaninov's Morceaux de fantaisie are brooding and exciting works of youth, plus it includes the inevitable and ineluctable Prelude in C sharp minor. Rachmaninov's Second Sonata is one of the most violently Romantic and supremely virtuosic works in the repertoire. For another thing, Kern is better in better music. Her Morceaux de fantaisie are unbearably alluring and overwhelmingly effective. Her Second Sonata is supremely tragic and transcendently virtuosic. For another thing, there's more music yet on the disc and all of it is extravagantly well played: from Rachmaninov's affectionate and brilliant Polka de W.R. to Taneyev's coruscating and incandescent Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor to Lyadov's captivating Prelude in D flat major, and especially his enchanting The Musical Snuffbox to the closing Balakirev's sultry In the Garden and his sexy Islamey, one of the most difficult works in the literature that Kern pulls off with panache and aplomb. For one last thing, Harmonia Mundi's sound is warm, vivid, and immediate. Anyone who loves Rachmaninov or great piano playing will love this disc. (

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