Mozart: Sonata in F Major, K. 533/494
Ligeti: Piano Études: Book Two
VII. Galamb borong
X. Der Zauberlehrling
(The Sorcerer's Apprentice)
XI. En suspens
XIII: L'escalier du diable
(The Devil's Staircase)
Byrd: A Voluntary from My ladye Nevells Booke
Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
So many pianists, so little time. Last week was a good one indeed for piano music lovers in New York City, as on Wednesday night Mitsuko Uchida graced the stage of Carnegie Hall, and then on Saturday night Jeremy Denk appeared at the Washington Irving High School as part of the Peoples' Symphony Concerts, a commendable organization which for over a century has successfully strived to keep the ticket prices low and the performance quality high.
The tuner still working hard on the piano as the audience was eagerly filling in the hall did not bode particularly well, but everybody was too excited to worry. We were all about to hear one of today's most versatile, intrepid and engaging artists tackle a resolutely eclectic program including Mozart, Ligeti, Byrd and Schumann, and not much else mattered.
We kicked off the concert in the finest Viennese tradition with Mozart and his sonata in F Major, which was as light and breezy as the lovely spring evening the Big Apple was finally enjoying. Keeping the playing carefree and the mood lively, Jeremy Denk expertly negotiated the piece's elegant twists and turns, not to mention the occasional flights of fancy, for a delightful opening number.
After this quintessentially classical beginning, the fearless virtuoso came out in full force when he attacked the knotty little vignettes that are Ligeti's Piano Études: Book Two. Although some glimpses of humor sprang up here and there, those études mostly distinguished themselves for their gnarly complexity as well as the unwavering aplomb and remarkable dexterity with which Jeremy Denk handled them. Among this series of dazzling feats particularly stood out the merrily, if still weirdly, melodic "Der Zauberlehrling", the hypnotic harmonic tapestry created by the two hands operating in two different worlds in "En suspens", and the devilish irresistible, downright unstoppable "L'Escalier du diable".
After intermission, during which the tuner was back to work some more on the seemingly reluctant piano, we jumped back in time all the way to the 16th century with "A Voluntary" from William Byrd's My Ladye Nevells Booke. This quick Renaissance detour turned out to be fun and pleasant, the prettiness of the work being jazzed up with a few quirky spikes.
Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze, one of the supreme piano achievements of 19th century Romanticism, magisterially wrapped up the official program. The famous dialogue between hot-blooded Florestan and dreamy Eusebius, the two conflicting aspects of the composer's personality, is long and animated. It is, after all, an ardent love letter to his future wife Clara, and Schumann clearly did not spare any effort. Accordingly, Jeremy Denk's playing covered a wide variety of moods with much expressiveness, and obviously a lot of love for the piece. The passionate outbursts fiercely exploded, the deep-seated melancholy achingly lingered, and the beautiful poetry delicately blossomed.
After this brilliant smorgasbord of piano works, there was nowhere else to go but to where it all began. So a small selection of Bach's Goldberg Variations wrapped things up with a flawless Baroque touch and kept my spirits high as I was walking back to the subway through a Union Square overflowing with revved-up people, loud noises and illicit smells.