Saturday, January 23, 2010

WPAS - Jeremy Denk - Bach, Ives, Berlioz and Meyerbeer - 01/23/10

Bach: Toccata in D Major, BWV 912
Ives: Piano Sonata No 1
Berlioz: "March to the Scaffold" from Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (arr. Liszt)
Meyerbeer: Réminiscences de Robert le diable, S. 413 (arr. Liszt)
Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

It is probably a safe bet to assume that most people know Jeremy Denk through his annual touring with Joshua Bell, whom he will actually join at Strathmore in a couple of weeks also as part of the WPAS season, but this afternoon he showed up on his own at the Terrace theater for his first Kennedy Center solo recital debut. It's about time, I'd say. The program was as eclectic as intriguing: Bach, Ives, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, the two last pieces arranged by no less than Liszt, and Schumann to wrap everything up. A nice cocktail for a welcome Saturday afternoon musical interlude.

The opening Bach toccata was energetic and whimsical, and a good way to get the concert going with inventiveness and fun. It made me wonder for a quick minute how better it would get after such an impeccable start, and I quickly found out.
Ives' First Piano Sonata is an awe-inspiring work consisting of five movements regularly alternating opposite moods, three of them serious, the remaining two light scherzos, all of which presenting various themes such as three more or less known American tunes and the story of a Connecticut farming family whose son has gone sowing his wild oats, so sorting everything out can become a very involving exercise even with the benefit of Jeremy Denk's extensive program notes and live introduction with samples. On the other hand, one could just sit back and relax, enjoying the endless intricacies of the music. The wild composer created here a wild piece, and riding the roller-coaster with him can be a thrilling adventure. Denk's obvious fondness for and deep knowledge of the composition helped make it more accessible and a good time was had by all.
After the intermission, we were back for a very neat piano version of Berlioz's "March to the Scaffold" courtesy of Liszt. Scrupulously faithful to the score, it retains, even emphasizes, the original brilliance of the Symphonie fantastique and Denk's interpretation of it had nothing to envy to Liszt's wildly successful one.
Liszt struck gold again with his arrangement for piano of Réminiscences de Robert le diable by Meyerbeer, and La valse infernale did sound as if it were conjuring all demonic spirits in a dark countryside.
Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze were of a lighter nature, quickly alternating Florestan's hot-headiness and Eusebius' dreaminess, as per the characters created by the composer himself. Denk's quick-witted playing sharply highlighted the fast descriptions of the various moods and the sheer vivacity of the work.
Our long and loud ovation earned us an encore in the "Alcotts" movement of Ives' Concord Sonata, one of his most popular works. The inserted famous opening notes of Beethoven's 5th symphony brought a familiar touch to the proceedings and concluded the concert on an upbeat note.

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