Oliver Kern

Alexander Scriabin, Alban Berg, Igor Stravinsky: Piano Sonatas; Maurice Ravel: Le tombeau de Couperin

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This disc by pianist Oliver Kern presents an interesting juxtaposition of European works written between 1903 and 1924, showing at once how divergent and how similar they are. Kern begins with Scriabin's short Piano Sonata No. 4, the last sonata Scriabin identified with a key (F sharp major) before moving on to more complex harmonies in his compositions. Even so, it wanders in unexpected, harmonic directions, but it remains Romantically rich, bright, and uplifting in sound. Berg's Sonata No. 1, is atonal, but it also has thematic unity throughout its relatively strict, traditional sonata-allegro form. The sonata by Stravinsky hovers between atonality and tonality, and more than looking backward for structure, it looks backward to Bach and Beethoven for its overall expression. Le tombeau de Couperin uses Baroque dance forms bathed in Ravel's colorful, tonal harmonies. Kern is a tremendously sensitive pianist who gives all these works a personal, at times even intimate, feel. The joy in the Scriabin and the shining moments of Le tombeau have more of a gentle radiance than a brilliancy. In the Berg and Stravinsky, Kern recognizes the more abstract nature of the music in his articulation, but does not distance himself emotionally from the music. The more tonal works, the Scriabin and Ravel, have more obviously affecting expression, but Kern carefully shapes the Berg and Stravinsky to make them communicate with the listener more meaningfully. He demonstrates that these pieces all look back in some manner, look forward in others, and, above all, have significance to him.

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