Something to think about and savor - a Jeremy Denk recital

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Something to think about and savor - a Jeremy Denk recital

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Dec 14, 2014 8:13 pm

When pianist Jeremy Denk presents a recital, the audience knows that he will be giving us something to think about.

In his program on Wednesday evening, December 10, Denk presented an unusual segment to get us thinking—a set of pieces from the 1820’s by Franz Schubert, interspersed with selections from Leos Janacek’s On an Overgrown Path, composed 80 years later. There were 15 pieces in all, played without interruption. In his spoken introduction (Denk can be counted upon to have a few words for the audience at every one of his recitals), he first rather puckishly said that these two composers were not alike at all. So why combine them? There is a connection, he suggested, in terms of an Eastern European flavor, in these piano works of the Czech, Janacek, and the Viennese Schubert. Denk then demonstrated a similarity in passages in two of these pieces. I thought it was a stretch to find an Eastern European link in the selection of Schubert Landler (country dances) and Moments Musicaux he played. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, these pieces blended well together, especially as gorgeously rendered by Denk.

The evening began, however, with a crisp and intriguing account of Haydn’s Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI:50 (the same sonata with which Yefim Bronfman began his recital program six weeks ago). The second, slow movement was especially interesting, as Denk brought out an almost improvisatory quality. Now that’s not a quality we normally associate with the highly structured Papa Haydn, but Denk presented it with an exploratory, rhythmically free style that suggested improvisation. Is this out of place? Not if it worked, which it did for this listener.

The word that comes to mind for the second half of the program is “sublime.” Certainly, Mozart’s Rondo in A Minor, K. 511, fits that description. In three-quarter time, it unfolds and envelops the listener in a sensual bath of music.

The late Beethoven Sonatas have their own sublime qualities, especially in the last and lengthy third movement of the Op. 109 Sonata. It’s a set of subtle and extended variations on an almost dreamy theme.

Perhaps I’m giving the impression that a Denk recital is a sort of gauzy rendition of ethereal music. That’s not it at all. He can be forceful and brilliant when the music calls for it. He does make us think—his performance of every work is replete with individual touches that cause us to pay attention to some of the hidden details of each work. But throughout, one cannot help but appreciate Denk’s absolute mastery of touch and dynamic shading. Yes, Denk wants us to think about his program, but we can also savor the sheer beauty of his playing and the music he presents.

Denk offered one encore: another Rondo by Mozart, in F Major, K. 494. It’s not quite at the pinnacle of creativity as the K. 511 Rondo, but it was an enjoyable way to close out the evening.

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Re: Something to think about and savor - a Jeremy Denk recit

Post by arepo » Mon Dec 15, 2014 9:59 am


As usual, another excellent and accurate review. I have long since steered myself away from attempting a review of any recital at which you also were present.

You captured Denk's presentation beautifully. A very unusual recital by a very thoughtful artist and I always enjoy his musical ideas.



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