Denis Kozhukin Brings Dynamism and Fire to Brahms’ First Piano Concerto

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Brahms, Beethoven: Denis Kozhukin (piano), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 15.5.2016. (SRT)

Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 1
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

In September Thomas Dausgaard takes over from Donald Runnicles as the Chief Conductor of the BBC SSO.  This is his first Edinburgh concert with them, and it’s the first time I’ve seen him in the flesh.  It bodes well, as it featured a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony that didn’t put a foot wrong.  Dausgaard conceived the symphony in two halves, and his tempo choices kept the whole work in beautiful proportion to its constituent parts.  He was broad and expansive in the introduction (even more impressively in the Allegretto), his Scherzo was sparky, and he chose a dangerously fast speed for the finale which, unusually, never felt as though it was getting out of control or sped up unnecessarily.  He was matched with great orchestral playing, of course, especially in that refined, mitteleuropäische string quality that is one of Runnicles’ greatest legacies to the orchestra.

I wasn’t quite so keen on his Brahms, mainly because the relationship between the forceful and the restrained wasn’t quite held in successful tension.  He laid the legato on too thick in the opening, for example, reducing its granitic scale, and the same decision robbed the third movement’s coda of some of its bounce.  However, I liked the way the first movement seemed to grow in power as it developed, Dausgaard refusing to lay all of his cards on the table at once, and there was a lovely sense of line to the Adagio, which unfolded in one great, unhurried span.

The real star here was Denis Kozhukhin, however, a real dynamo at the keyboard.  He brought a huge sense of scale to his playing, with pianism of fiery power that still seemed to be restrained – albeit only just – within Brahms’ classical boundaries; raging within the machine, if you like.  The craggy outcrops of the first movement sounded thrilling, and yet the chordal second subject sounded full of the sweetest longing, while the second movement was haunting, melancholy, even dreamy in places.  He found a particularly delicate touch for the finale, with a rumbustious good humour in the turn to the major.  It’s one of the most exciting concerto performances I’ve heard for a while.  He plays Brahms’ second concerto with the BBCSSO on Thursday evening in Glasgow, this time with Runnicles at the helm.  I can’t wait!

Thursday night’s concert of the same repertoire from Glasgow’s City Halls was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and can be heard again here.

Details of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season can be found here.

Simon Thompson

Leave a Comment