Gifted young violinist the star of Semyon Bychkov's mostly Brahms program with CSO

Chicago Tribune

Semyon Bychkov has been appearing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra fairly regularly since 1988 and during that time has proved himself one of the orchestra's most dependable guest conductors. Not always the most charismatic of podium guests, but unfailingly thorough in a way that calls attention to how the music is made and what it has to say to the listener, rather than what an interpreter can do to call attention to himself.

So it was Thursday night, when the Russian conductor began a full-service residency at Symphony Center with a program of repertory staples by Johannes Brahms, set off by a curious homage to Brahms by one of the composer's contemporary countrymen, Detlev Glanert. 

The charisma factor was in fact handily appropriated by the evening's soloist, the remarkably gifted young French violinist Renaud Capucon, who delivered a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto that was as probing as it was engrossing.

That Capucon can be a passionately committed Brahmsian the CSO public learned in 2012 when he was joined by his brother, cellist Gautier Capucon, in the Brahms Double Concerto here. On Thursday he made you aware of a searching musical intellect supported by a superb technical arsenal. The sound he drew from his 1737 Guarneri del Gesu violin went from bright and radiant to dark and luscious, as the musical situation demanded — such was the sinewy strength of his bow arm.

This was very much a young virtuoso's Brahms, yet a performance sensitively attuned to the inner serenity that is so endemic to the composer's musical psyche. A prime example of this was the slow movement, played as a reverie of quite ravishing tonal beauty, whose arching phrases Capucon delivered with the utmost poetic concentration. All this was set off by Bychkov's sympathetic accompaniment, complete with fine solo playing from guest principal oboe Jonathan Fischer, of the Houston Symphony.

The outer movements were hardly less successful, the first capped by a sweeping account of the Joseph Joachim cadenza, the last a whirl of Hungarian-flavored rhythms to which Capucon brought driving vivacity and biting accents. Bychkov's batonless conducting did not always guarantee the most precise entries, but this was a small blot on a winning performance.

Read the rest of the review here