Monday, September 26, 2011

Pianist Kern will return with fireworks

Olga Kern isn't one to play it safe. Assuming that the announcement lists things in the right order, the Russian pianist will walk onstage and dive straight into one of the most challenging works in the piano repertoire when she returns to Charlotte for a concert Oct. 7.

Kern will start her recital for Charlotte Concerts with a favorite warhorse of generations of virtuosos: "Islamey" by Mily Balakirev, one of her Russian musical forebears. Based on fiery folk music from the Caucasus, it's something of a keyboard equivalent of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Sheherazade" -- ringing, flamboyant and lush. And it's condensed into eight or nine action-packed minutes.

So it takes nerve to tackle it first thing. But Kern may know what she's doing: The first time she played in Charlotte, in 2006, she started with another whirlwind of a piece -- in that case, by Felix Mendelssohn. She tossed it off with no trouble. By the end of the concert, she had whipped the audience into a state that made Charlotte's usual standing ovations pale by comparison.

This time, she'll move on from "Islamey" to another dose of Russian opulence, Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2. (Not only has Rachmaninoff been something of a specialty of Kern's ever since she won the Van Cliburn piano competition in 2001, but she played his Piano Concerto No. 2 and "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" in her last two Charlotte visits.) And she'll cap off the concert with one of the piano world's most beloved blends of poetry and exuberance: Robert Schumann's "Carnaval."

Kern will play at 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at Central Piedmont Community College's Halton Theater. Details: 704-330-6534;

Balakirev's "Islamey"

Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2

Schumann's "Carnaval"