A “Denkvoll” Recital with an Unconventional Essay

United StatesUnited States Haydn, Janáček, Schubert, Mozart, and Beethoven (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 10.12.2014 (BJ)

Haydn: Piano Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI:50
Janáček: Movements from On an Overgrown Path, alternating with Schubert: Movements from Ländler, D. 366; Moments musicaux, D. 780; Ländler and Écossaises, D. 734; Grazer Galopp, D. 925
Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K. 511
Beethoven: Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109

Quickly, before people start writing to tell me that “denkvoll” is not a proper German word, let me assure you that I know that. I just think it should be, because it would be a very accurate description of this appropriately surnamed pianist’s music-making. True to the German root of the name “Denk,” Jeremy of that ilk cannot put his fingers to the keyboard without making the listener think.

He is that rare treasure, a musician vividly aware of tradition yet always open to going beyond or outside it. Thus the program under review (identical with one my colleague Stan Metzger reviewed enthusiastically in New York a month ago, except for the replacement of the concluding Schumann Carnaval with a Beethoven sonata) began and ended with unimpeachably “normal” helpings of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, but in between offered an unconventional interleaving of short pieces by Janáček and Schubert.

The result of this essay in intellectual exploration was to demonstrate that the Czech composer’s ostensibly spasmodic musical idiom, with its often fragmented rhythms founded in the verbal patterns of his native language, is by no means as distant in manner as we tend to believe from his Viennese predecessor’s effortlessly seamless flow of melodic invention. To hear these essentially miniature creations treated with equal respect, and set forth with a stylistic assurance that identified the two composers’ points of kinship without shortchanging the individual character of each, was tantamount to a master-class for music-lovers.

Interestingly, the Haydn sonata that began the program also fitted, if in a subtler way, into the scheme of the whole by virtue of its interrelated stretches of sparsely textured wit and sustained lyricism, and the controlled romanticism of Mozart’s wonderful A-minor Rondo, played with searching intensity, served to remind us of the tradition that Schubert himself evolved from.

Denk’s account of the first of Beethoven’s final triptych of sonatas brought the official program of his recital to a characteristically compelling close, the textures of the first movement realized with total coherence, the central scherzo taken at a fearless and genuinely vertiginous Prestissimo, and the variation finale phrased with a combination of sensitivity and strength that made amends for the timid stab at it that we heard from another pianist a few weeks before. For encore, Denk treated us to another equally great Mozart rondo: K. 494 in F major, the one Mozart later prefaced with two additional movements to turn it into one of his finest sonatas. A superb recital—satisfying and illuminating in equal measure.

Bernard Jacobson

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