Capuçon’s fiery playing sparks Bychkov’s Brahms program with CSO

Chicago Classical Review

Semyon Bychkov returned to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra podium Thursday night, the first CSO podium guest of the 2015-16 season. The Basically Brahms program may not have showed much imagination on paper but was spiced by a superb solo outing and an apt contemporary work, Detlev Glanert’s Brahms-Fantasie, heard in its U.S. premiere.

Bychkov introduced Glanert’s music to Chicago audiences five seasons ago with the German composer’s Theatrum beastiarum, a powerful, darkly brilliant ride.  

Renaud Capuçon was the soloist in the evening’s centerpiece, Brahms’ not unfamiliar Violin Concerto. The French violinist was even more successful than in his last CSO appearance in the Brahms Double Concerto with cellist brother Gautier in 2012. One could hardly imagine a greater contrast in Capuçon’s fully committed performance than with Pinchas Zukerman’s somnambulist act in the same work three years ago.  

Capuçon brought notable freshness to the concerto with a finely judged blend of sweetness and sinew. There was ample youthful fire in the opening movement with the drama reflected in the synergy between the soloist and Bychkov’s hard-charging accompaniment.

The Adagio was launched with a relaxed bucolic oboe solo by guest Jonathan Fischer, principal of the Houston Symphony. Capuçon’s tender phrasing consistently beguiled the ear in this music, with a natural, nostalgic accompaniment by the orchestra under Bychkov. If the dance-like element wasn’t always evident in the finale, the roiling full-blooded performance provided a suitable payoff with Capuçon’s bristling bravura a fine match for Bychkov and the energized orchestra.

After a hearty and vigorous Allegretto, the performance culminated in a combustible finale. Following the tension of the opening bars, Daniel Gingrich lofted a noble horn solo and Bychkov and the players ratcheted up the tension and adrenaline to a fever pitch with a raw intensity infrequently heard in this repertory. 

Read the rest of the review here