Wigmore Hall recital / Haydn, Franck, Schubert, Hindemith, Brahms
“Kozhukhin gave a fresh-faced reading of the F major Piano Sonata (Hoboken 23). Crisp and eager, fleet and fastidious, Kozhukhin delighted in the surprises to be found during the witty and urbane first movement, and in the intricate Adagio that follows he brought out its plaintive expression and unexpected modulations. Played with pleasure, the jolly japes of the finale made the world seem a better place. Then with much contrast Kozhukhin found a richly expressive world in César Franck’s masterly Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (Liszt and his cyclical principles in the mix), searching and soulful initially, and also clarifying the denseness of the writing, then delivering raptly the chords and arpeggios of the ‘Chorale’. The ‘Fugue’ was prepared grandly for and exposed for both its minutiae and sweep…
It was good to hear this work and to enjoy Kozhukhin’s commitment to it [Hindemith Sonata No.3]. So too the pianist’s way with the Fantasies (three Capriccios and four Intermezzos) that make up Brahms’s Opus 116; whether mightily heroic, tenderly personal or powerfully passionate, Kozhukhin had the measure of chordal cloudbursts and the most intimate expression.
In reviewing the Onyx Prokofiev release, I suggested that “it may well be that Denis Kozhukhin (born 1986 in Nizhny Novgorod) can be considered as the leader of the pack of Russian pianists currently under forty.” This Wigmore recital more than confirmed this… Kozhukhin will surely become a favourite at this venue.”
Classical Source, September 2013
West Australian Symphony Orchestra / cond. Arvo Volmer / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3
“Many years ago, I heard Julius Katchen in Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.3. Until the weekend, I had never encountered a performance to match it. But on Friday, at his first performance in Perth, Denis Kozhukhin, the young Russian pianist, did just that in an electrifying account of one of the toughest keyboard assignments in the repertoire.
Building up to shattering climaxes, Kozhukhin, like some pianistic Zeus, hurled bolts of sound into the auditorium and, with fearless fingers and phenomenal finesse, steered a faultless way through pages that are unconquerable Everests for most other musicians. So attuned was this extraordinary pianist to the subtleties of the score, it seemed as if the presentation was more a form of communion between pianist and composer than mere communication between soloist and audience...
And in response to a storm of ecstatic applause, Kozhukhin gave us, as encore, Siloti's arrangement of Bach's Prelude in B minor. After the pianistic pyrotechnics of the concerto, the unfolding of these serene measures was an oasis of tranquillity. Bravissimo!”
The West Australian, June 2013
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra / cond. Arvo Volmer / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3
“His performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.3 left no doubt that he is a prodigiously talented artist. It's a work that requires fingers of steel, but Kozhukhin's were wrapped in velvet.
All the precision and percussive clarity were there, but without a hint of harshness or ugliness. Kozhukhin found delicacy and an almost romantic sensibility in the score, but equally he unleashed glittering cascades of sound propelled by motoric rhythms of irresistible momentum.”
Adelaide Now, June 2013
International Piano Series, Queen Elizabeth Hall / Prokofiev Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 & 8
“Kozhukhin is a terrific player. He seems to combine massive technique, sensitivity and great intellect all within the same body, something mightily rare these days. As these sonatas appear to be his calling card it would be rash to suggest we take our hats off to a genius – I need to hear him in other repertoire – but that he is a musician of stature is beyond doubt. There were no technical obstacles for him in this recital, which is saying something...
[In the Sixth’s Sonata] Kozhukhin’s sense of contrast was great indeed – the more relaxed sections were very ruminative. Yet he can do charm, too, as in the echt-Prokofiev staccato at the beginning of the Allegretto second movement; contrasting profundity made the third movement – Tempo di valzer lentissimo – radiant. His sound was miraculously deep here, his pianissimi properly so and yet with true, projected tone. The Vivace finale was not just fast, but was sinisterly so, an undercurrent far more pronounced here than many other readings.
The Seventh Sonata (1939-42) began with evidence of the consideration Kozhukhin had given these scores. The opening was fast, yes, but beautifully balanced; the first climax, though, was frenetic, balanced to perfection by the emotional significance he found in the slower sections. The imitation tolling bells of the central Andante caloroso (‘caloroso’ means warmly) left an indelible impression, as did Kozhukhin’s way with the characteristically Prokofievian inflections of that movement’s first theme. The fast finale, marked Precipitato was massively exciting – more so than his recording – a visceral experience that will not easily be forgotten...
The Eighth Sonata... is a dark, enigmatic piece, it is true – but surely that is all the more reason to honour it. Kozhukhin revealed just how warm his sound can be at the opening of the huge first movement, and his sure grasp of the piece as a whole meant he could guide us through this spectral, disquieting landscape magnificently. One marvelled again at his technique, not only in terms of numbers of notes, but also about how perfectly he weighted the close of the second movement and how he made the finale sparkle blackly – and if you know this piece, you’ll know that’s not a contradiction. There is a tremendous maturity on offer from Kozhukhin – occasionally, there was the impression that one was exploring the darkest reaches of Prokofiev’s psyche, an impression that was simultaneously unsettling and stimulating.
This was a fascinating recital from a pianist of whom I want to hear much more.”
Seen and Heard International, May 2013
“Kozhukhin's interpretations were fabulously nuanced and with an uncanny skill in bringing out the tone-colours of different simultaneous lines... [the Seventh Sonata’s] central Andante caloroso moved me to tears.”
www.davidnice.blogspot.co.uk, May 2013
International Chamber Music Series, Queen Elizabeth Hall / Shostakovich Piano Trio No.2 & Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time / Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Jörg Widmann
“This was a devastatingly powerful rendition of Shostakovich's music, all three performers marshalling the full weight of their technical and expressive forces to give a performance that was both compelling and heart-rending…
To see, and hear, four musicians so fully engaged in this timeless and transcendent music was extraordinarily powerful, and it seems appropriate to paraphrase Messiaen himself to describe the reaction of the audience: never before had we listened with such attention and understanding. The standing ovation at the end of the work was richly deserved: this was chamber music of the highest order.”
One Stop Arts, May 2013
Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire / cond. John Axelrod / Liszt Piano Concerto No.1
“Fully involved, showing a stunning techinque and staggering musicality, Denis Kozhukhin seems to have a thousand fingers. We were constantly amazed to see the ease with which such a performance was delivered to us, and humbled at the idea of knowing the level of self-sacrifice that this performance required... The encore only reinforced this feeling, the young Russian flaunting the whole range of his refinement and virtuosity”.
Le Courrier de l’Ouest, April 2013
Recording: Prokofiev The War Sonatas - Nos. 6, 7 and 8 (Onyx Classics, ONYX 4111)
“26 year-old Denis Kozhukhin arrives on the recording scene fully-fledged, like Athena springing from the head of Zeus. Intellect is central: I’ve never heard so much revelatory detail in Prokofiev’s triptych of dark and painful masterpieces. Kozhukhin has a way of bringing out the detail of the inner parts, or even a usually inconsequential-seeming bass line, that highlights the drama instead of distracting from it; there’s so much internal play in the droll march-scherzo of the Sixth Sonata, so much genius revealed about the way Prokofiev elaborates or dislocates the minuet theme at the heart of the Eighth. The touch is one that the composer-pianist would probably applaud: clear rather than dry, recorded with superb presence and ringing treble, bringing in the sustaining pedal with mesmerising care only to nuance the more pensive themes...
Kozhukhin does pull all the strands together in the great parade of the Eighth’s concluding vivace, a stunning tour de force at the end of an always though-provoking trilogy”.
BBC Music Magazine, five stars, May 2013
“Denis Kozhukhin gives a magnificent account of Prokofiev’s Sixth Piano Sonata (1940), technically and musically, playing with fervour and clarity, investing the music with intensity, feeling and exploration, and holding completely the listener’s attention. In the first movement, violence and numbed tranquillity vie with one another. Kozhukhin is unstinting in the former and sensitive in the latter, welding the two together. From Kozhukhin the second movement is restless, dancing on staccato points, before lyricism enters only to become contrapuntally gnarled, the return to the ballet steps made edgier. The slow movement peers deeply into human emotion, Kozhukhin spontaneously spinning Prokofiev’s heartfelt eloquence and his musing disquiet, and he follows this with a finale that, at speed, is full of incident, detail and significance...
For these dazzling, perceptive and compelling performances, the pianist has been explicitly and truthfully recorded without recourse to harshness. On the strength alone of these interpretations and realisations, it may well be that Denis Kozhukhin (born 1986 in Nizhny Novgorod) can be considered as the leader of the pack of Russian pianists currently under forty.”
Classical Source, April 2013
“In these probing performances, Kozhukhin truly awakens the personality of the sonatas: the sorrowful shades underpinning the thrust and driven excitement of the Sixth; the mournful exuberance of the Seventh with its achingly beautiful central Andante; and the refreshing tenderness of the Eighth. Kozhukhin has the grasp of Prokofiev, no question.”
The Scotsman, April 2013
“Although Kozhukhin has a fabulous technique he never lets fireworks get in the way of a very considered, deeply thought out approach to these sonatas. His view and pianism stand on their own. A marvellous disc.”
The Dominion Post, July 2013
“The anguish, hardships and resilience of the Russian people are there in the three War Sonatas that Prokofiev wrote between 1940-44, and are brilliantly played by Denis Kozhukhin on his new Onyx CD…
Throughout, one can grasp the range of psychological and emotional layers in scores by a composer second only to Shostakovich in his love of irony…
Kozhukhin harvests this score [Sonata No.8] to perfection. The ambling sweetness of the opening Andante dolce floats with just the right balance of courage and caution.
The Andante sognando - another of Prokofiev's expressive directions - is the very heart of the piece. Halfway between minuet and waltz, in the hands of Kozhukhin, its graceful Viennese touches seem to suggest a yearning for better times, past and future.”
New Zealand Herald, November 2013
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art / Schubert, Ligeti, Prokofiev & Haydn
“As far as piano technique goes Denis Kozhukhin from Novgorod is already on his way into the comprehensive and respect-commanding Hall of Fame of the Russian piano school ...
Denis Kozhukhin has a consummate feeling both for the provocative and the sensitive in Prokofiev’s music, and the many virtuoso elements in the intense work, which requires much playing with crossed hands, was no problem...
He made Ligeti’s demanding brilliance sound so romantic and nostalgic in the treatment of melody and made the quite unplayable ‘The Devil’s Staircase’ so madly captivating in the heaven-storming stampede of the etude (which ends in the blackest of holes!)... a quick Haydn sonata with colours and nuances, and Chopin’s ‘Raindrop Prelude’ at the end only reinforced the impression that Kozhukhin is the man of the future.”
Politiken, February 2013
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / cond. Vasily Petrenko / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3
“Despite his youth, [Denis Kozhukhin] was clearly the equal of the composer’s many demands... he played with blissful fluidity and a fine sense of drama, bouncing off his stool as he fired through rapid rattle phrases and floating over the keys in a style both musically expressive and technically authoritative.”
Liverpool Echo, March 2013
“Denis Kozhukhin’s fingers did a bit of dancing through the lyric and motoric delights of Prokoviev’s Third Piano Concerto. Now this really is all about articulation and Kozhukhin and Petrenko were telepathically like-minded about the piece, luxuriating in its beauty (how ravishing the Gavotte and its variations are in the middle movement) but equally reveling in the dizzying incandescence of the finale’s final pages. Kozhukhin returned with more ravishment, albeit quieter and more reflective, in his encore – an exquisite Gluck arrangement with more than a touch of Bach in the mix.”
Edward Seckerson, March 2013
Recital at Tokyo Opera City / Chopin
“If I were a pianist, and if I faced this great talent, I would have to despair in myself …
Kozhukhin’s left hand especially displays noteworthy strength. Basic arpeggios were established precisely, allowing the right hand freedom for nuance and sensitivity. For example, in the beginning of the second Sonata, I was surprised that only the left hand resonated at first, but from thereon the melodic line and inner voice appeared little by little. It was vivid and reminded me of a 3D effect.
There were also many of unforgettable moments in Preludes, for example, the beauty of the long trill in the left hand in No. 9, the heavenly pianissimo in No. 15, and the jazz-like improvisation in No. 16 and 24 ...
The encores were by Bach and Schubert. After two hours of flamboyant music, the subtle charm of these encores was breathtaking.”
Yomiuri Evening Newspaper, February 2013
SWR2 Internationale Pianisten in Mainz / Haydn, Franck, Ligeti & Liszt
“The ecstatic last notes of Györgi Ligeti’s etude “L’escalier du Diable” linger for a while until they finally fade away. Denis Kozhukhin, 26, seems content and relaxed and there is no way of telling that just a moment before he drew the audience at the Frankfurter Hof into a whirl of obsessed, dazzling, overlapping runs, harmonies, sounds and tempi.
The Hungarian composer Ligeti loves the complicated in music and the optical illusions in visual art. In the young Russian pianist, who won first prize at the renowned international piano competition “Concours Reine Elisabeth”, Ligeti seems to have posthumously found the ideal interpreter of his compositions.
The highly complex “Etudes pour piano” have as little in common with finger exercises as times tables do with Fermat’s rule. They are a daunting and on occasion acoustically overtaxing accumulation of technical and musical difficulties. Denis Kozhukhin simply breaks them down with perfection and a rarely heard sensitivity for the sound. His expressive way of playing shows his profound understanding of musical structures...
Franz Liszt’s “Etudes d’execution transcendante” were in his time considered to be “unplayable and unenjoyable”. From the “Wilde Jagd” and its punctuated runs or the watercolour-like nuances of “Harmonies du Soir” to the pathetically told story about the page “Mazzeppa”– Kozhukhin is incredibly sharp both in terms of technique and interpretation.
And he certainly managed to commit this to the audience’s memory not least with the encores he gave, one of which was Gluck’s “Plainte d’Orfee”.
Allgemeine Zeitung, January 2013
City of London Festival / Mussorgsky
“Kozhukhin’s intensity was expressed through colour and wit and a keen sense of pacing, particularly in the closing piece, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. He brought out the humour in the Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks’ unexpected stops and starts, and the wicked glints in The Hut on Fowl’s Legs. The final picture, the Great Gate of Kiev, pushes some pianists beyond their limit. But in Kozhukhin’s hands it rose to the final peroration with magnificent, unforced grandeur.”
Daily Telegraph, July 2012
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / cond. Ludovic Morlot / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.5
“It has been a triumphal innings for Denis Kozhukhin in Glasgow, where over the last few months he has played all of Prokofiev's piano concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The first marked the 26-year-old's UK professional debut; at this final concert, the sold-out City Halls cheered him with the fondness they would a local lad.
He saved the mighty fifth concerto until last, tackling it with the same blithe bravura as he had the other four. Even having to learn three of the concertos from scratch did not phase Kozhukhin, who always seems to be enjoying himself. His cheerful assurance never comes across as hubris, though: he is attentive and gracious with the orchestra, and technically breezy, fingers buoyant on the keys no matter how dense Prokofiev's writing. His sound is percussive but not harsh, forceful but never overwhelming, cheeky but not mean or sarcastic. He breathed gentle space into the Larghetto and easy swing into the Moderato's opening offbeats. This was a young man's Prokofiev, sincere and quirky and inquisitive.”
Guardian, April 2012
“The night belonged to the sensational young Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin, completing his survey of Prokofiev's Piano Concertos with a spectacularly mind-boggling performance of the brilliant Fifth Concerto.
His nimble, flying virtuosity is a mix of weightless, supple, acrobatic display and power with a steel core; but his witty characterisations, from the quirky second movement to the madcap antics of the finale, were genius in action. Glorious.”
The Herald Scotland, April 2012
BBC Symphony Orchestra / cond. Martyn Brabbins / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.2
“THIS was remarkable; a performance of such rare quality it is difficult to light on vocabulary that might define the experience.
It might be said that soloist Denis Kozhukhin’s performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2 was powerful, or characterful, or emotional, or personable, or (as was certainly the case) that it was all of the above.
There could be some mileage in recounting the audience’s stunned reaction as Kozhukhin wrestled with and overcame passage after furious passage, gathering tension as he went by virtue of the sheer physical strain required to realise the notes Prokofiev put on the page.
Kozhukhin should also be praised for adding stresses and quirks to the second movement, showing it to be something approaching the scherzo claimed by its title; for his phrasing in the Intermezzo which confirmed that short, fast notes do not necessarily signify lighthearted frivolity; and in particular for the terrifying sorrow he conveyed in the melody which dominates the closing movement.”
The Scotsman, December 2011
“The performance of Prokofiev Two by the amazing pianist Denis Kozhukhin with the BBC SSO and conductor Martyn Brabbins was more than an astonishing performance: it was an account that made total sense of the piece, and was completely revealing of the music itself – always the ultimate test of a great version...
The performance was dynamite: explosive and volatile, with phenomenal playing from Kozhukhin, but all within a lucidly defined context and structure.
Everything locked into place, from the tiny opening cell to the huge frame of the four-movement monster. The event was an exemplar of its type; nothing less than that.”
Herald Scotland, December 2011
Utah Symphony Orchestra / cond. Garry Walker / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.1
“Kozhukhin’s dazzling performance showed that he isn’t just another hotshot with lightning-fast fingers, but a savvy musician worth keeping an eye on. He paired phenomenal speed with crystal clarity and graceful phrasing. Garry Walker and the orchestra did a splendid job matching Kozhukhin’s dynamism in this exuberant concerto, which charges forward without pause and culminates in an exhilarating burst of musical adrenaline.”
The Salt Lake Tribune, October 2011
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / cond. Xian Zhang / Prokofiev Piano Concerto No.3
“On the basis of this performance of the Third Concerto, a thrilling journey is on the cards, for it was the Prokofiev that towered above anything else in this programme...
Where the Prokofiev was concerned, Kozhukhin's fiery, firm-handed presence was the defining factor in shaping a performance of extraordinary power and drive. There was subtlety in the shading of its bittersweet lyricism, and lustre in its flamboyant hard-bitten irony.
Kozhukhin's BBC series looks set to be unmissable.”
The Scotsman, October 2011
“Tackling all five Prokofiev Piano Concertos in one season is a hefty ask for any pianist, let alone a 25-year old who is having to learn most of them from scratch. But judging by Thursday’s first instalment of the cycle the BBC SSO has chosen well.
The first is often characterised as the cheeriest of the lot, but as in all Prokofiev there’s a sense that things aren’t quite as they seem. Denis Kozhukhin went for that sardonic smirk below the breezy surface: lyricism laced with steel, articulation precise enough to honour Prokofiev’s love of classical clarity and suitably throwaway to avoid sounding earnest. Earlier, he described the piano’s relationship with the orchestra in these concertos as a fight, but his playing steered more toward cheeky understatement than machismo or patriotic grandstanding.”The Herald
, October 2011
MDR Musiksommer / Haydn, Brahms & Liszt
“Kozhukhin began with the dramatic and beautiful sounding Haydn sonata in E flat major... Kozhukhin showed himself to be a romantically minded pianist, concentrating on the emotional expressiveness of the piece.”
Thüringische Landeszeitung, August 2011
Recital at Montreux Chateau de Chillon / Haydn, Brahms & Liszt
“He excelled himself in Brahms’ superb sonata no.1, which is played all too rarely. Polyphony, power, touch; everything was there. With its plaintive melody, thundering depths, and crystal-clear counterpoint in the upper voices, the first movement flew by, bouncing around like a jack-in-a-box. Kozhukin evoked both intimacy and majesty, driving the Andante with fantastic phrasing, intelligence and purity, and infusing the finale with a touch of Beethoven. This repertoire was clearly made for him.”
Concert Classic, September 2011
Juventus Festival / Haydn, Brahms & Liszt
“The audience was blown away by the Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin. He is the ridiculously talented winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition, one of the most prestigious in the world. The audience, hearing his virtuosity, the brilliance with which he interpreted his program and three encores without a score, was dazzled by his talent.”
La Voix du Nord, July 2011
Santander Summer Festival / Brahms Piano Concerto No.1
“Denis Kozhukhin delivered a version of this beautiful score which was exceptional for its clarity of concept, the deepening of the composer's ideas, and the mighty technical and expressive ability, which was demonstrated at all times without any difficulty.”
Eldiariomontanes.es, July 2011
Munich Herkulessaal / Haydn, Brahms & Liszt
“It quickly became apparent during his recital at the Herkulessaal that Denis Kozhukin is a marvellous pianist. Anyone who can play a selection from Liszt’s ‘Etudes d’exécution transcendente’ so brilliantly has no technical limitations. Anyone who can shape the various lines and layers of sound in the densely packed movement of Brahms’ Sonata in C major Op. 1 with such vividness, and without missing a single musical detail, demonstrates a truly substantial musical understanding that really gets to the bottom of the piece.
His Haydn was inspiring: Kozhukin measured the tone with such precision that the colours and contrasts were perfectly weighted, both in the lively opening movement and the austerely performed adagio.”
Suddeutsche Zeitung, March 2011
Recital at Theatre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris / Haydn, Schumann & Mussorgsky
“The second half was excellent. Kozhukin gave a dazzling performance of his compatriot Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an exhibition’; creating a cosmic and grandiose vision with his resourceful playing, light touch and a palette of colours worthy of a young Sviatoslav Richter. Kozhukin attempted to hold back time, offering three encores which all confirmed his future promise: a breathtaking ‘Escalier du diable’ by Ligeti, a powerful performance of Taneïev, and to conclude, a peaceful arrangement of Bach by Siloti. Kozhukin is definitely one to watch.”
Anaclase, October 2010
Royal Flemish Philharmonic / cond. Edo de Waart / Brahms Piano Concerto No.2
“The jury (of the Queen Elisabeth Competition) awarded the highly deserved first prize to Denis Kozhukhin, already a seasoned pianist. This young musician proved his worth with Brahms 2nd piano concerto. To sum the performance up in a few words; it boasted a full sound, virile and intense playing, and clear intentions. Kozhukhin mastered the piece with exceptional composure, and beyond his technically brilliant performance of this titanic concerto, he remained above all a musician. The occasionally harsh tone of his playing was ideally suited to Op.83, and yet he was also capable of beautifully delicate and light playing when required. He brought out the fierce poetry of the piece with a simplicity and authority which augur a great future for this young pianist who is still only 24 years of age.”
Concert Classic, June 2010
Recital at Zankel Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York / Haydn, Schumann & Mussorgsky
“A Haydn Sonata Accented With Ingenuity.
Less than a month after winning first prize in the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition in Brussels, the young Russian Denis Kozhukhin … gave formidable, freshly considered accounts of two challenging staples: Schumann’s ‘Symphonic Études’ and Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition.’ yet it was his sensitive playing of a much more modest work — Haydn’s Sonata in E flat (Hob. XVI:49), which opened the program — that left the strongest impression of Mr. Kozhukhin’s gifts and potential.
He took a genial, unrushed approach to the opening Allegro, allowing ample time for melodic phrases to breathe. Trills and turns were dispatched with lyrical grace; chords were voiced to bring out harmonic nuances. Haydn plays a game near the end of the first movement, which seems about to stop several times. Mr. Kozhukhin did not overdo the humor, choosing instead to highlight the musical ingenuity in each turn of phrase. He captured the Beethovenian grandeur of the pensive slow movement and played the finale, a playful homage to a courtly minuet, with crisp articulation and high spirits.
Mr. Kozhukhin already has all the technique he will ever need. His first teachers were his parents. At 14 he graduated from a Russian conservatory and moved to Madrid to further his studies and broaden his outlook. Lanky and relaxed, with long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, he looked completely comfortable at the piano. He began the Schumann without taking a break after the Haydn, without even waiting for latecomers to settle into their seats.
Even in the most hypercharged of the études, which abound in leaping chords and rippling, intricate passagework, Mr. Kozhukhin played commandingly. He set a bracing tempo in the final march yet managed to bring out chromatic details and inner voices.
After ‘Pictures’, he played that Ligeti étude as an encore, thrillingly.”
New York Times, June 2010
Queen Elisabeth Competition
“Denis Kozhukhin performed Haydn’s Sonata in E flat major Hob. XVI:49 with such subtlety, such carefully-judged pacing and such attention to detail that one felt transported back to the Classical period. His rendition of ‘Target’, too, came across as a thoughtfully conceived interpretation. But it was his rendition of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto that stole the show – and the competition. The work evolved like an epic journey, and throughout everything was perfectly paced so that dramatic climaxes were unleashed with force of a tornado.”
International Piano Magazine, July/August 2010
“It rapidly became obvious to both audience and jury during Denis Kozhukhin’s performance that he unquestionably had that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, so impossible to define, which characterises a truly musical personality, standing head and shoulders above the competition, talented though they all were.
To begin, Kozhukhin played Haydn’s piano sonata in E flat major. He played with such serenity and mastery of both technique and effects; every element of the sonata was given its proper place. After an opening of extreme lightness, delicacy and tenderness, the tone grew in richness. This was followed by the set work, ‘Target’, by the 23 year old Korean composer Jeon Minje. In this complex piece of multiple realities and percussive impressions, Denis Kozhukhin really made himself heard. Not just in the literal sense, but in the figurative sense also, giving a highly personal performance of a work which he had made his own in the space of just one week. His final piece, like two other competitors, was Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concerto. He had such presence and such authority; inspiring an orchestra and a conductor who had not always shared the artistic vision of and close relationship with the other candidates. In a wonderful dialogue with the orchestra, Kozhukhin revealed the many facets and treasures of this concerto, which in turn revealed what a marvellous musician Kozhukhin himself is.”
Luxembourger Wort, May 2010
“As his performance progressed, it became more and more obvious that Kozhukhin paired his musicality with an integrity and a humanity that guard him from the danger of becoming a piano-playing machine. His inner calm never deserted him, even in the wild developments of Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concerto, or the series of percussive chords in the set piece ‘Target’ by Jeon Minje. The Orchestre National itself was won over by his natural authority, and delivered a faultless performance for him, allowing him to deploy his full range of aural wizardry – but in his own particular style; simple and devoid of superfluity. The various phrases in the Haydn sonata were imbued with colour, and responded one to another other in perfectly balanced dialogue between right and left hands. Both the pieces and the overall programme showed an intelligence of construction, building an arch from the alpha of the Haydn to the omega of the Prokofiev. By 11.30pm on Saturday 29th May, there could be no doubt: the Queen Elisabeth piano competition of 2010 had found its winner.”
Le Soir, May 2010
“Denis Kozhukhin was incontestably the winner. Those who had already heard him in the semi-finals had singled him out. … and we sensed from the very first bars of his initial Haydn sonata that he was indeed outstanding: a true musician, in fact. His technique, his virtuosity, his complete control of the tone and the clarity of his interpretation were means to serve the music, and not ends in themselves.
He demonstrated a calm maturity, and entered into a real dialogue with the orchestra in Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concerto, spurring them on. This was a magnificent partnership between soloist and orchestra. Kozhukhin was also clearly very aware of, and motivated by, the audience’s presence, and built up a wonderful relationship with them.”
La Voix, May 2010
“Denis Kozhukhin’s win is incontestable, and is compounded by his incredible popular success. The Russian pianist plotted a flawless route through the competition, where his radiant musicality was unceasingly served by stunning technical mastery. There is a joy in his playing which drives him right to the very essence of the possibilities contained within a score.
At the age of only 23, he is already in the company of the greats with his combination of moral strength and gentleness.”
Le Soir, May 2010
“It is very difficult to sum up (or indeed analyse) Denis Kozhukhin’s playing in writing. His performance of Haydn’s piano sonata in E flat major, Hob.XVI:49, was the very essence of clarity, simplicity and wit. But why? Was it the tone? The tempo? We weren’t hearing a particular pianistic timbre, but rather the voice of someone speaking, or of a soul expressing itself. But if you listened carefully, you could identify a peaceful tone, full of nuance, colour and intensity; faithful in the utmost to the score. The tempo was simply right - slower than the extravagant speeds we had encountered over the past weeks from other competitors - a sign that the pianist felt connected with the composer’s intentions, and was confident in his interpretation. The final minuet, simple in the extreme (even a beginner could play it) was simply electrifying, and was followed by complete silence from the audience.
Kozhukhin’s was the 12th interpretation of ‘Target’ to be heard, which incidentally wasn’t played from memory by any of the competitors. His performance revealed what could well be the piece’s defining structure: a succession of individual tableaux, each with its own characteristic ambience, and through which the visionary power of the pianist unveiled a hitherto undiscovered lyricism and an overbearing tension (like a galvanised Marin Alsop!). After a sombre and inspired cadence came a dazzling conclusion.
Kozhukhin gave the second performance of Prokofiev’s 2nd piano concerto that night; it was similar to that of Claire Huangci in its interpretation, but at the polar opposite in its energy. From the opening melody, Denis whisked all those around him – conductor, orchestra, audience and jury – off on an epic adventure whose itinerary, although theoretically familiar, gradually seemed to enter the unknown. The scherzo had an integrity of its own, delivered without excessive haste, like a dream. The intermezzo was taken to the edge of the extreme: a dance for bears who finally took their leave on the tips of their toes. The finale was broad, powerful, at its ease, and organically connected with the orchestra; the final presto was dazzling. Kozhukhin received a standing ovation from an enraptured audience.”
La Libre Belgique, May 2010