The Gold Medalist in the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition makes a strong impression again in her fifth recording for Harmonia mundi. The choice of the Warsaw orchestra and conductor seems perfectly appropriate for the Chopin concerto, and both Kern and the orchestra became very comfortable with the work since they performed it during their 2004 tour of the U.S. Kern is adept at communicating the beauties of the lyrical slow movement of the concerto, and also shines in the virtuoso passages of the framing movements. Her spectacular Horowitz-like technical abilities in the Chopin may remind one of her strong playing of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto or the Rachmaninoff transcriptions in her earlier albums. Kern herself has observed, “I play strong like a man but feel like a woman.” A brief comparison with another SACD of another Chopin piano concerto – No. 2 played by Mari Kodama on a PentaTone disc – backs up at least the first part of Kern’s quote.
Although the surface fireworks are thrilling, Kern doesn’t ignore the deeper feelings in the music, and this comes out more clearly in the four solo piano selections which were studio-recorded after the concerto. The very familiar Fantasy-Impromptu – with its I’m Always Chasing Rainbows tune – sounds fresh and dreamy under Kern’s fingers, and impresses with the artful way Chopin presents the theme. The concerto was recorded in a theater in Irvine, CA and the surround presentation is natural and the piano not as exaggerated in size as on many recordings. The cardboard jewel-box-alternative packaging (isn’t there a name yet for this?) is well-designed with the note booklet fastened to the folder. The whole thing is so much nicer than the #!%! standard jewel-boxes – especially when SACD labels use them instead of the slightly-better SACD jewel boxes.
– John Sunier