Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Denk’

“He’s So Musical”

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

by Sedgwick Clark

PK turned to me last Friday (3/22) at Carnegie Hall when the applause had died down for intermission and asked, “Where did he come from? He’s so musical. Where did he train?” Moments later, she continued animatedly to friends who had joined us, “He seems relaxed with the piano – it’s not an adversarial relationship like the Serkin school, where the instrument is an enemy to be conquered. He doesn’t play with anxiety, which is rare these days.” She also liked his insightful program notes.

What a relief! Her usual question when I’ve cajoled her into going to a concert that initially elicited a frown is muttered after the first piece or movement: “Why am I here?” Fact is, she’d almost always rather spend the evening at home with our three bichons, but this time she was happy she came.

The recitalist was Jeremy Denk, who opened the program audaciously with Bartók’s Piano Sonata (1926). I hadn’t heard the Sonata in many years and was reminded of its strong kinship to the First Piano Concerto (my favorite of the three), which Bartók composed later that year. It’s the first of his oeuvre to use the piano as a percussion instrument. “Though dissonant and raucous, it’s very good-humored,” Denk states in his notes, and his rendering of the work’s dance and folk elements, his colorful tonal palette, and refusal to bang served the music brilliantly.

Great Liszt performances require beauty of tone, first and foremost. In “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” Prelude after J.S. Bach, S. 179; Sonetto 123 del Petrarca from Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième année; Dante Sonata; and Isoldes Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde — a group Denk describes as “ranging from worldly pain to bliss to damnation to death” — he succeeded admirably, with all the requisite dynamic range. The first work, astonishingly, seems to be the first Carnegie Hall performance in recorded history. The Petrarca Sonetto purred with velvet. The turbulent Dante, which so often sprawls, was the most convincing, i.e., coherent, performance I’ve heard. The Tristan transcription, which easily curdles, was gorgeously sustained.

Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, BWV 869, appeared underplayed, perhaps deliberately, for it was followed by a Beethoven Sonata No. 32, Op. 111, replete with chance taking. Carnegie’s wet acoustic has always challenged piano recitals (at least in the parquet seats), especially after the hall’s 1986 renovation, and Denk’s fingers seemed to race ahead at times in the Allegro. The second-movement Adagio lacked breadth to my taste, despite excellent trills and an emotionally satisfying coda, but PK “really liked” the performance in its entirety.

Denk fans may look forward to Saturday evening, May 4, when he joins Renée Fleming and several other fine artists at Carnegie in an attractive lineup of vocal and chamber fin de siècle works.

By the way, Denk earned a master’s degree as a pupil of György Sebök at Indiana University and a doctorate in piano performance at Juilliard, where he studied with Herbert Stessin.

Looking Forward

My week’s scheduled concerts (8:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted):

3/28 Avery Fisher Hall. Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel. Vivier: Zipangu. Debussy: La Mer. Stravinsky: The Firebird (complete ballet).

4/1 at 7:30. Symphony Space. Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival. Pulse Chamber Ensemble; Chris Reza Trio. Victoria Bond: Cyclops. Charles Mason: Pulsearrythmic. Thomas Sleeper: Semi-Suite. Jesse Jones: Unisono. Chris Reza: Cacophony.

4/3 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. Hindemith: Concert Music for Strings and Brass. Rachmaninoff: Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra.

4/4 Carnegie Hall. Boston Symphony/Daniele Gatti; Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo; Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Mahler: Symphony No. 3.

Mostly Mozart/Some Stravinsky

Friday, August 12th, 2011

by Sedgwick Clark

Lincoln Center’s attempt to add variety to Mostly Moz is just fine with me, especially if the variety is Stravinsky. Audiences seem to agree too, for a Saturday afternoon of Stravinsky films and two concerts of his chamber music by the spiffy International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) were packed.

The first of the films was the familiar CBS New Special on the composer, narrated by Charles Kuralt. There’s a lot of good material here (unfortunately in a washed-out video source so typical of the 1960s), particularly an appearance in Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, where Le Sacre du printemps received its scandalous premiere on May 29, 1913. The aged composer tells of that infamous occasion and walks to the seat in which he sat that night. But not for long, as the audience’s catcalling began almost immediately and the infuriated composer arose from his seat, shouted “Go to hell,” and headed backstage.

The second film documents a powerfully emotional 1963 Budapest performance of the composer leading the Hungarian Radio Orchestra in his Symphony of Psalms. Ensemble is iffy, tuning of the winds is wishful, and the orchestra is obviously following the concertmaster rather than Stravinsky’s jerky beats. But none of this matters in light of a mesmerizingly slow third movement that never loses its rapt concentration and buoyant rhythm. How could he ever have said — even to make an anti-Romantic point — that “music is powerless to express anything”?

The third film was choreographer Pina Bausch’s 1978 rendering of Le Sacre (to Boulez’s Cleveland recording), overpowered by the music as usual. The fourth film was Julie Taymor’s fanciful production of Oedipus Rex, which was about as far from the composer’s austere conception as could be imagined, and presumably welcome to those who find the music marmoreal. Jessye Norman and Philip Langridge sing well, with Seiji Ozawa leading the Saito Kinen Festival Orchestra.

Stravinsky on ICE

The pair of ICE concerts on Monday, August 8, offered rarely played works in sterling performances. The 7:30, in Alice Tully Hall, was all Stravinsky, and the 10:30 concert in the Kaplan Penthouse was Stravinsky and several short works written in memoriam to him by Denisov, Berio, Carter, Finnissy, Schnittke, and Zorn. (The complete listing of works is at the end of my previous blog.) So, let’s talk about the guest conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado. The day after this concert, my friend Mark Swed, music critic of the Los Angeles Times, called to ask if I had heard these concerts (silly question) and what I thought of Pablo. To tell the truth, I hadn’t heard of him before reading Steve Smith’s Times review on Monday of an earlier concert in which H-C reportedly set very fast tempos in Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, which is the only way I can abide the piece (after all, Wolfy did specify Molto Allegro and Allegro assai for the outer movements). But now that I have I won’t miss his next local appearances. His bio says he’s “A champion of contemporary music” and that he has the imprimatur of Pierre Boulez. Oddly, however, there’s no mention of his home country and age. He’s 34, hails from Granada, Spain, and has a bush of dark, curly hair that rivals Gustavo’s. He, too, is blessed with matinee idol looks. From the Tully balcony he looked to be all of 20 when he smiled, but seemed closer to his given age in the intimate Penthouse.

He certainly knows his way around a score. Stravinsky’s Ragtime, “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, Eight Instrumental Miniatures, and the Octet downstairs zipped along delightfully. He might have reined in his ICE players a bit and achieved crisper textures, but such sins of youth are forgivable in light of such clean rhythms and lively tempos. Only the thorny Concerto for Piano and Winds disappointed; had I not heard the revelatory performance last season at Zankel by Jeremy Denk and John Adams conducting the Ensemble ACJW, the performance in Tully would have seemed impressive. But Peter Serkin’s technically unimpeachable yet comparatively monochromatic solo work paled next to Denk’s fleet-fingered, balletic romp.

Perahia’s Bach

A Sony Classical re-release in a three-CD set (88697 82429 2) of Bach keyboard concertos played by Murray Perahia is so darned musical that one wonders where nearly everyone else went wrong. So warm, expressive, joyous, naturally paced—if you don’t have these recordings already, don’t hesitate.

Contents: Keyboard Concertos Nos. 1-7; Concerto for Flute, Violin & Harpsichord in A minor, BWV 1044; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050; Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971.

Looking forward

8/12-13 Bard Music Festival. Sibelius and His World.