Krivine, Kozhukhin and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra Review- A rousing concert of changing moods and themes

On Thursday, November 17th, Guest Conductor Emmanuel Krivine conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) with Guest Pianist Denis Kozhukhin in a spectacular program of Lizst, Prokofiev and Dvorak, with a Scarlatti encore. The program, held at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, was repeated on Saturday, November 19th and will be performed again on Tuesday, November 22nd at 7:30 PM.

Conductor Emanuel Krivine leads The Chicago Symphony Orchestra; photo by Todd Rosenberg

 Krivine, one of the most renowned conductors in the world, will take over as Director of the Orchestre National de France for 2017-2018. He will also debut with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in April, 2017. His long career has seen him lending his precision, grace and fine temperament at the helm of many of the world’s greatest orchestras as guest conductor; born in France, he has led French orchestras for decades. The Russian-born Kozhukin, 29, is known by contrast for his strength and fiery dynamism. The two tackled a daunting program and pulled off a tour de force of enormous technical prowess as well as a thrilling interpretive coup.

Conductor Emmanuel Krivine and The Chicago Symphony Orchestra; photo by Todd Rosenberg

The first piece, performed by the CSO, was “Les Preludes”, (S. 97), 1856, the most famous of Franz Liszt’s 12 symphonic poems, which have been described as containing a “free form in which a few basic themes undergo continuous transformations of melody, rhythm, harmony, timbre, dynamics or tempo”- sometimes simultaneously. In “Les Preludes”, love themes are transmuted into militaristic marches and battle calls. Krivine, ever so deft, led the Orchestra with gentle, coaxing hands during the lyrical portions and with stronger, demanding thrusts of the baton in the rousing changes.The piece was sweeping and storied.

Next , Denis Kozhukin appeared with the CSO and played “Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor”, (Op. 16), 1913, by Sergei Prokofiev. The original score was lost in a fire following the Russian Revolution and reconstructed by the composer in 1923; he advised that it had been “So completely rewritten that it might almost be considered No. 4”. The first and last movements, each approximately 12 minutes long, are generally thought to be “some of the most dramatic music in all of Prokofiev’s piano concertos”; they both contain long cadenzas, well developed. Indeed, the first of the four movements opens quietly but soon develops into a notoriously difficult to play five-minute cadenza, ultimately joined by blaring horns, and flutes and strings which practically shriek before fading off. The second movement is also technically rigorous, both in terms of fingering and the concentration required to pursue it’s determined line. The third movement, by contrast, is heavy, moody. Finally, in the last portion, the pianist must almost sprint, with the hands literally galloping, flying apart, and ending the piece with the sound of dissonant bells. 

Denis Kozhukin; photo by Felix Broede

Kozhukhin was thrilling to watch; his hands -like sculpted birds- at times delicately crossed over themselves, at times, thundered furiously at the upper and lower registers in unison- he played with a fierce concentration; he dominated the Steinway, sometimes thrusting himself from the keyboard.

Before the intermission, Kazhukhin gave the audience a light and lovely respite from the drama, performing the “Keyboard Sonata in C-sharp minor”, (K.247) 1753, by Domenico Scarlatti. Like the rest of his sonatas, and “entirely charachteristic of the composer”, this piece is suggestive of the folk music of Spain. It is constructed of a single movement, leads to a pivotal point midway, and then consists of repetitive figurations. The piece was charming and melodic. Afterwards, to thunderous applause, Krivine embraced the pianist in congratulations before the intermission.

Piano soloist Denis Kozhukhin and Conductor Emmanuel Krivine congratulate one another; photo by Todd Rosenberg

The final piece performed was Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 8 in G Major”, (Op. 88), 1889, a 36- minute work in 4 movements. Similar to the Prokofiev piece earlier in the program, all 4 movements are structured in an unusual way, containing a large variety of themes, which often sound like improvisational material. Under the skilled baton of Maestro Krivine the CSO worked up quite a head of steam, opening with the roar of timpani in the first movement. The second was notable for a lovely clarinet duet. The third movement is more lachrymose, and the finale, composed of “complex theme and variations”, began with a trumpet fanfare, builds tension and climaxes happily.

It was a delight to watch Krivine calling forth the changes, occasionally hopping as he drove the tempestuous middle section to the final movement. The concert was of a piece; complicated music with many themes and tempos, demanding and being fulfilled by technical virtuosity from Conductor, pianist and Orchestra. Very notable throughout was Krivine's thorough control from the outset; each piece began with a full swell, capturing the imagination from the onset.

Piano soloist Denis Kozhukhin performs Prokofiev with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra; photo by Todd Rosenberg


For information on and tickets to this concert and all the great concerts and programs in the 126th season with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, including special events and series, go to the CSO website



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