Another Think-Fest from Jeremy Denk

United StatesUnited States Bach, Hayden/Joplin, Byrd, Stravinsky, Hindemith, Bolcom, Nancarrow, Donald Lambert, Haydn, and Schumann: Jeremy Denk (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 23.10.2015 (BJ)

Bach: English Suite in G minor, BWV 808
Hayden/Joplin: Sunflower Slow Drag
Byrd: The Passinge Mesures: the Nynthe Pavian, from My Ladye Nevelles Booke
Stravinsky: Piano-Rag-Music
Hindemith: Ragtime from Suite “1922,” Op. 26
Bolcom: Graceful Ghost Rag
Nancarrow: Canons for Ursula, No.1
Donald Lambert: “Pilgrims’ Chorus” from Tannhäuser
Haydn: Fantasia in C major, Hob. XVII:4
Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9

A Jeremy Denk recital is no place for the lazy listener who just wants to revel in what he or she already knows. His last appearance, a year ago, for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, featured a stimulating interleaving of pieces by Janáček and Schubert. This time, with no less illuminating effect, he offered a sort of “shuffle” section of seven short works, mostly in a variety of dance measures, several of them (notably the uproarious take on Wagner invented around 1941 by the then celebrated jazz stride pianist Donald Lambert) denizens of the frontier territory between classical music on one hand and the world of ragtime and jazz on the other. Each piece seemed to have something of interest to say not only for itself but about its neighbors on the program.

All of this supremely gifted and breathtakingly intelligent pianist’s familiar expressive musicianship was in evidence in his playing, both of these lighter goodies and of the classical and romantic works that book-ended the program, along with a degree of sheer virtuosity that may not have been previously suspected even by some of his most dedicated admirers. His Bach was stylistically knowing and at the same time crisp and tender. (Bach returned to round off the evening with, as encore, No. 13 from the “Goldberg” Variations.)

The very first phrases of Schumann’s Carnaval typified Denk’s characteristic blend of textual fidelity with imagination, creating an arresting musical effect through the meticulous distinction he made between initial 8th-note upbeats and the shorter 16th-note ones that follow. And Haydn’s deliciously entertaining little C-major Fantasia was thrown off with an insouciant wit that never descended into mere triviality.

Bernard Jacobson

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