When Vladimir Ashkenazy won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1956, the runners-up were John Browning, André Tchaikowsky, Cecile Ousset, and Lazar Berman. While the Competition hasn’t been able to maintain that kind of heady stature, it’s still a major plum—and on the basis of the exceptional performances here, Denis Kozhukhin very much deserved his 2010 victory. Two virtues are especially striking. First, his magisterial senseRead more of vertical balance: his playing stands out for his superb weighting of his accompaniments (note the dialogic way he treats the opening of the third movement of the Sixth) and his lucid textures (as is especially clear in the Finale of the Sixth, he’s got a special knack for bringing out superimposed rhythms). Second, his horizontal resilience: no matter how jagged the profile or how quirky the rhythm, Kozhukhin manages to maintain the elasticity of the phrase, keeping up the sense of progress even in music that, in lesser hands, can turn repetitious. But these unfailingly imaginative and detailed readings reveal plenty of other musical virtues as well: artfully graded dynamics, a fine sense of contrast (note the distinction between the first and second themes in the first movement of the Seventh), a solid recognition of musical architecture.
Granted, Kozhukhin, while technically impressive (as contest winners tend to be), is not quite a super virtuoso. He throws off the treacherous conclusion of the Eighth’s finale with unblanching intensity, but the ending of the development in the first movement brings a few moments of strain. Then, too, for all his attention to the subtle changes of the music’s harmonic fragrance, the slower passages (where his somewhat lean tone sometimes lets him down) don’t always probe as deeply as they might. Certainly, the central panel of the Seventh is more notable for the way he builds the music’s fury than for the way he explores its doubts and ambiguities. Still, these are minor drawbacks on a distinguished release.
The sound is fine, and Daniel Jaffé fits a lot of information into the brief space he’s been allotted for his notes (although it’s curious that this disc is released under the title The War Sonatas, since the notes argue against the use of that soubriquet). Final word: There’s plenty of competition in this repertoire, not only from past masters like Cliburn (in the Sixth), Horowitz (in the Seventh), Argerich (in the Seventh), Gilels (in the Eighth), and Richter (in all three), to name but a few, but also from mid-career pianists such as Anne-Marie McDermott (an ear-opening set of the entire sonata cycle) and from such newcomers as Polina Leschenko (in the Seventh). Still, if Kozhukhin is not yet quite in that company, he’s only a step behind—and very much a pianist worth your attention. Strongly recommended.
yawnApril 27, 2013By D. Mount (West Roxbury, MA)See All My Reviews"Poor guy, has the misfortune of coming out with the exact same recital as Boris Giltburg's recent disc, which is a barn-burner. Giltburg competes with and possibly supercedes all the prior classic recordings of at least #6 and #7, e.g. Pogorelich and Pollini, respectively. Kozhukhin, not so much.... Buy the Giltburg CD."Report Abuse