Olga Kern, age 26, was born into a family of musicians and began studying piano at the Central Music School of Moscow at the age of 5. Winning her first international competition at 11, she has earned several top prizes, including the grand prize of the 2000 Cantu International Piano Competition in Italy. Kern has already performed in many of the great halls of the world, including La Scala in Milan.
Olga Kern shared first prize with Stanislav Ioudenitch
at the 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in June 2001 and became the first woman to win a Gold Medal at the Fort Worth contest since Christina Ortiz in 1969. I am less impressed than the Cliburn's jurors were. In show pieces such as Liszt's Reminiscences de Don Juan
, she certainly reaches decibel levels higher than those of Ioudenitch in the same composer's comparably flashy Rhapsodie espagnole and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. But if she's louder than Ioudenitch, she's also less compelling musically. Her performance of the Liszt fantasy on themes from Mozart's Don Giovanni
lacks the flashing wit and depth of feeling revealed by such Lisztians as Gregory Ginzburg (Arlecchino), Simon Barere (Pearl and Cembal d'Amour), and Jorge Bolet (London Classics). In another Liszt transcription--of Wagner's Isolde's Liebestod
--her tremolandos and her use of the sustaining pedal are too ponderous to provide the shimmering and glowing texture necessary to the music. And her performance of Scriabin's Sonata No. 9 ("Black Mass") lacks the requisite grotesquerie and menace. She is at her best in second-rate music--the Impronta Digitale of Judith Lang Zaimont and the neo-Romantic Sonata (Op. 26) of Samuel Barber. --Stephen Wigler