Album Review: Olga Kern and Dalí Quartet

Russian-American pianist Olga Kern won the gold medal at the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition and has maintained an active concert and recording career since then. The website for the Dalí Quartet, which is based in Philadelphia, lists a different first violinist, Ari Isaacman Beck, than the one listed on this disc, Domenic Salerni. The membership comes from the United States, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico, and the Quartet has given much exposure to music by Latin-American composers.

Kern and the Dalí Quartet seem temperamentally well matched here. The emphasis in these performances is on incisive rhythms and dramatic intensity more than lyricism. Such an approach is effective in both piano quintets, although perhaps it is a stronger match for the Shostakovich. In the Scherzo of that work Kern and the Dalí Quartet vividly convey the spiky, sarcastic wit in the music. As is often the case with Shostakovich’s slow movements, the Intermezzo is the heart of the piece. There are few composers who can match Shostakovich’s ability to portray loneliness and emptiness, and this performance captures the movement’s desolate atmosphere very well. In the finale, where the mood is more optimistic and light-hearted, Kern and the strings nicely convey the switch of moods while still finding a subtle undercurrent of darkness.

Their approach to the Brahms Piano Quintet is dynamic and vigorous, which is certainly valid. I suspect, however, that some listeners will find it relentless—fortunately, the performers take their feet off the gas pedal frequently enough to provide contrasting lightness. The second movement could benefit from a more intimate and lyrical approach, but Kern and the Dalí Quartet capture, as they did in the Shostakovich, the dark mood that lies just under the surface of this score, particularly in the finale.

Delos’s recorded sound is well balanced and natural, and Chaz Stuart’s program notes will be helpful to anyone coming anew to these two masterpieces.


Henry Fogle, Fanfare Magazine
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