Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin dazzles in Gilmore Rising Stars performance

Michigan Live

 The Gilmore's Rising Stars season closed out Sunday afternoon at the Wellspring Theater, with Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin performing a well-designed program that displayed critical features of his artistry.

The selections he played — by Haydn, Brahms and Prokofiev — alone could not provide absolute confirmation of his excellence. But the depth and intensity of interpretations conspired for a dazzling performance.

Like most Gilmore Rising Stars, Kozhukhin arrived with abundant awards and praises. After graduating from Madrid's Reina Sofia School of Music, he completed studies with Gilmore Artist Kirill Gerstein in Stuttgart.  

Sunday's audience heard a pianist with an individual sound. Haydn's Piano Sonata in F Major, Hob. XVI: 23, was performed with Kozhukhin in command from the outset. His tempos perfectly served each movement, while gentleness in the Adagio confirmed intelligent forethought. The Presto of the Finale scattered staccato notes, creating an engaging backdrop. Sensitive playing offered irresistible charm.

Anyone who has played even one of Brahms' Seven Fantasien, Op. 116 recognizes the endless possibilities of these pieces. Kozhukhin exhibited the individuality of each work, though possibly it was misguided bluster and over-balanced lower register in No. 1, Capriccio in D Minor. But it was a brilliant reading of the gorgeous No. 3 Capriccio in G Minor. Kozhukhin masterfully exposed the lyrical inspirations of each Fantasia to reveal the impressive romantic glories of the whole.

Engaging as the pieces by Haydn and Brahms were, the show-stopping selection Sunday was the pianist's rendering of Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 8 in B Flat Major, Op. 84.  Good reason that Kozhukhin's recording of Prokofiev's "Three War Sonatas" (numbers 6 through 8) won great acclaim.

Prokofiev marks the closing movement Vivace, a title that does not do it justice. Fast runs scouted in every direction, as the score unleashed maddened chromatic runs by both hands. Mercurial tempos were readily accommodated by Kozhukhin's swift hands, and the work concluded with exhausted exultation. Magnificent.

Media editors will need to master the spelling of Kozhukhin's name, as he becomes better known.

Read the full review here