BBC Proms: Jeremy Denk and Karina Canellakis

Jeremy Denk

Conductor and orchestra reached their peak in the first movement of Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony, which was shaped with microscopic precision, yet still with its hot emotions and natural flow intact. Bright little subtleties in phrasing sparkled from the woodwinds. In the third movement’s trio section an eastern European lilt eluded the strings, but there wasn’t anything drastically wrong with the home counties equivalent. And above and beyond the dancing colours, Canellakis displayed a total grasp of this loveable symphony’s wayward structure. A performance to treasure.

Bartók’s finger-bashing Piano Concerto No 2 offered other riches. The soloist Jeremy Denk tripped through its assault course with athletic vim, yet never left his colleagues panting. Brass, winds and percussion kept up their own battering. The orchestra’s silky quiet in the second movement’s adagio passages proved a further wonder. So did Denk’s encore, a simple, twinkling Mozart andante (K545), light as a gossamer kiss. 

The Times 
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Having made a memorable UK debut earlier this year, Karina Canellakis tonight made her first appearance at the Proms with a programme including her American compatriot Missy Mazzoli. Little of her music has been heard on this side of the Atlantic, but the European premiere of Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) may well change that. Inspired by the shape of the solar system, it unfolds in slow-burning loops – with imaginative use of keyboards and percussion – towards an ending as teasingly understated as this piece when taken overall.

Bartók was rarely so equivocal, with the Second Piano Concerto being no exception. Jeremy Denk had the measure of its densely chorded solo writing; if balance with woodwind and brass in the first movement was not ideally in focus, its successor’s introspective nocturnal had the right ominous import, before the finale bounded forth with an exhilarating energy.  

The Independent
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Denk's encore was an exquisite application of his double consciousness to Mozart's Andante from the Piano Sonata K545 by way of total contrast. His unique take on it ranged from the crystalline possibilities of the modern grand, on the cusp of silence, to an occasional fortepiano-ish effect to lift the melodic line.

Perfection. Canellakis’s Dvorák was high, lucid and bright from start to finish. Brisk but never rushing, she always allowed the woodwind their characterful voice through the textures and space to achieve their Bohemian magic, from the new dawn of Michael Cox’s peerless flute solo through some unconventional but convincing phrasing in the mysteries of the slow movement through to the roll of clarinets in the finale. And if the soulful waltz-scherzo seemed a bit straight at first, it got its extra lift on the reprise, capped by a delicious chatterbox coda. As with the Bartók, you were left to gasp at the invention of the music – not a slack moment in either masterpiece. It takes very good conducting indeed not to get in the way of that sense of wonder.

The Arts Desk
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