Music Review

Pianist Denis Kozhukhin lights up Longy

Denis Kozhukhin.
Denis Kozhukhin.

CAMBRIDGE — Not yet 30, and the first-prize winner at the 2010 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin has a formidable technique and, to judge by the Celebrity Series recital he gave Wednesday at Longy School of Music, no want of stamina. The bill comprised two Haydn sonatas, the seven “Fantasien” from Brahms’s Op. 116, Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” Franck’s “Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue,” and Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7.

Kozhukhin’s Haydn is gracious, sometimes genial, always forthright. He opened with Hob. XVI: 24, in D major, shifting from the cheerful Allegro into a restless reading of the D-minor Adagio and then straight into the playful syncopations of the Presto finale. Hob. XVI: 32, in B minor, led off the second half of the program in a darker vein. The opening movement thumped ominously, and the minuet exuded a false gaiety before being led on a forced march. The finale was a run-for-your-life affair.

The Brahms and Rachmaninoff pieces both got passionate, heavyweight readings. In Brahms’s late (1892) Op. 116, the three Capriccios are turbulent, the four Intermezzi more reflective. Here almost everything surged. It was Brahms as a young man, even a young Schumann — the noble cascades of the G-minor Capriccio reached epic proportions, and Kozhukhin attacked the frantic toccata of the closing D-minor Capriccio as if it were “Kreisleriana.” Calm did reign in the A-minor Intermezzo, and the rippling middle section of the second E-major Intermezzo positively twinkled.


“Variations on a Theme of Corelli” — 20 variations bookended by the theme and with an intermezzo in the middle — was composed in 1931, and though it scarcely turns up in recital, it’s of a piece with the popular “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which Rachmaninoff wrote three years later. Kozhukhin made the theme — actually not composed by Corelli — palpable in every variation. He hopscotched through No. 2 and played jumping jacks with No. 5; he was moodily spectral in No. 9, cantabile in No. 15, and spooky in No. 19 before finishing No. 20 in the grand manner.

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“Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue” was a minor disappointment, powerfully stated but more Brahmsian than Franckian. The Prokofiev, from 1942, found Kozhukhin in his element, however, and his performance was even more ferocious than the one on his 2012 Onyx recording, a chilling portrait of Stalinist Russia. He made painful the composer’s reference to the Schumann song “Wehmut” in the second movement, and in the finger-busting “Precipitato” finale you could hear the allusion to the “Danse sacrale” of Stravinsky’s “Sacre du printemps.” Yet he had energy left for a pair of encores, sonatas by Antonio Soler and Domenico Scarlatti.

Denis Kozhukhin

Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. At Longy School of Music, Pickman Hall, Cambridge, Wednesday

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at