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Oklahoma City Philharmonic celebrates 'Russian Enchantment'

Music of Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff focus of Oklahoma City Philharmonic's “Russian Enchantment” classics concert.
Modified: April 8, 2013 at 5:06 pm •  Published: April 9, 2013

There's an interesting phenomenon that exists among works for solo instrument and orchestra. The more familiar a concerto, the harder it is for a soloist to put a distinctive interpretive stamp on the work.

Some observe the composer's guidelines meticulously and let the music speak for itself. Others impose interpretive liberties that can include excessive use of rubato, wide tempo fluctuations or downright quirky approaches.

Olga Kern, who recently made her Oklahoma City Philharmonic debut in Rachmaninoff's “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor,” delivered a performance that generally hewed closely to the former, with a few choices that borrowed from the latter.

Kern opted to perform on a Yamaha concert grand instead of the orchestra's Hamburg Steinway.

That resulted in a brighter sound although the instrument didn't always speak clearly throughout its seven-octave range.

The Russian pianist's approach to the familiar opening, a series of nine chords ending in C Minor, suggested this was to be a rhythmically solid performance with none of the syrupy excesses that some soloists have applied to this concerto.

But Kern then took a rather free approach to the opening movement's main melody, which made anyone familiar with this concerto sit up and take notice. And while there was generally sparse use of rubato, Kern occasionally lingered in places one usually doesn't encounter them.

The Second Concerto's central Adagio sostenuto unfolded with many sublime moments. Here, Kern seemed content to be the conduit between composer and audience, simply letting the music convey its inherent emotional content without unnecessary fussiness.

In the finale, there were moments where Kern pulled ahead of the orchestra, leaving Joel Levine and the musicians scrambling to keep up. There was even an occasional passage where Kern sounded almost cavalier in her approach.

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