Denk got rhythm

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Ricordanza
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Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Denk got rhythm

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Oct 25, 2015 11:37 am

A piano recital by Jeremy Denk is never just a piano recital. Yes, we hear a program of works for solo piano, played by a master pianist. But there is always something extra, a message or a theme underlying the program.

The clear theme of Denk’s program on Friday evening, October 23, was rhythm, and the centerpiece of the evening was a series of seven diverse works with an asserted common element of ragtime rhythm. I say asserted because, as is his custom, Denk began the segment with a spoken introduction, offering something informative, and often humorous, about each piece. The opening work, Sunflower Slow Drag by Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin, clearly fit the bill. So did Stravinsky’s Piano-Rag Music, Hindemith’s intense Ragtime from his Opus 26 Suite, and the gorgeous Graceful Ghost Rag by William Bolcom. But what about the 16th Century composer William Byrd, represented by a set of variations from My Lady Nevelles Booke? Denk claimed that the last variation was Byrd’s version of a rag. That seemed a stretch to these ears. Conlon Nancarrow’s 1990 work, Canons for Ursula, does not seem to be anything resembling ragtime, but it does contain some intriguing and rhythmically complex music. Denk didn’t tell us much about the last piece—all he said was that he would conclude with music from Richard Wagner’s Tannhauser. Indeed, all the program stated was that the composer was one Donald Lambert (1904-1962), and the title of the piece was the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhauser. So where did that fit in? The piece started with a conventional statement of that well-known theme, but then transformed into a raucous, boogie-woogie version of that music. I know that this sounds bizarre, even tasteless, as described, but take my word for it: It worked, and gave Denk the opportunity to display his virtuoso pianism.

By the way, I looked up Lambert in Wikipedia and found that Donald "The Lamb" Lambert was an American jazz “stride” pianist perhaps best known for playing in Harlem night clubs throughout the 1920s. Lambert was taught piano by his mother but never learned to read music.

The recital began in a more conventional manner with Bach’s English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808. Not a jazz work, to be sure, but it certainly fit in the theme when one remembers that these suites are collections of dances. Denk was almost too exuberant in the opening Prelude, but calmed down sufficiently in the more stately, slower dances, and played brilliantly in the concluding Gigue.

The second half of the program, Haydn and Schumann, also appeared conventional—at least on paper. But the Haydn was a rarely performed work (I had never heard it before), namely, the Fantasia in C Major, Hob. XVII:4. I’m not sure how this piece fit in with the theme, since it is not particularly unique from a rhythmic perspective. But it certainly is musically interesting, in its free form (for its day) and surprising modulations. The piece contains some rapid passagework, and, at times, Denk gave the impression of rushing through these passages, which detracted somewhat from the enjoyment of the work.

It was readily apparent how the concluding work matched the evening’s theme: Robert Schumann’s propulsive, syncopated rhythms are a hallmark of his piano music. Denk presented one of the most famous, and glorious, examples of Schumann’s piano works, Carnaval, Opus 9. This collection of 21 pieces is a supreme work of imagination, and Denk presented a brilliant and memorable performance.

arepo
Posts: 405
Joined: Thu May 07, 2009 6:02 pm

Re: Denk got rhythm

Post by arepo » Sun Oct 25, 2015 9:44 pm

Henry..

Couldn't make the Denk recital at the last minute and sorry I missed it. Your review , as usual, was wonderful.

Denk is a fascinating man in many ways and a superb young artist, as well.

See you at the Hewitt concert.

cliftwood

Ricordanza
Posts: 1595
Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Re: Denk got rhythm

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Oct 26, 2015 5:17 am

arepo wrote:See you at the Hewitt concert.
Thanks. I plan to be there.

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