Conductor: Louis Langrée
Bach: Chaconne in D Minor for piano left hand (Transcription by Brahms) − Jeremy Denk
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466 − Jeremy Denk
Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor
On yet another summer weekend in New York City, yesterday evening I was back at the Avery Fisher Hall for, incidentally, another performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 4 and, most importantly, a solo piece by Bach and a piano concerto by Mozart − It is his festival, after all − performed by one of the Mostly Mozart Festival's main attractions, our very own Jeremy Denk.
The other differences from last weekend would be the seats and the company as my friend Angie had been replaced by my equally dear friend Christine, and we found ourselves in much lesser (and ironically paid for this time) seats in the packed concert hall. But the complimentary flutes of champagne that we got to leisurely sip on the Avery Fisher Hall's balcony overlooking Lincoln Plaza before the concert certainly helped alleviate to some degree the indignity of going back to the nose-bleed section's last row one week after tasting the fleeting pleasure of the center of the orchestra section. A bit like going back to flying Coach after enjoying a stint in First Class (or so I've heard).
Bach's Chaconne from his Partita in D Minor for solo violin is famous for being one of the most extraordinary − and extraordinarily difficult − works of the classical music repertoire. Brahms managed to make it even more daunting when he boldly came up with his own transcription of it for the left hand only, a formidable token of his admiration for Bach and his love for Clara Schumann, to whom the composition was dedicated. Seemingly all alone in the darkened concert hall, which cleverly made the grand performance feel downright intimate, Jeremy Denk was in full command of his remarkable skills, starting in a subdued way before handling the countless tricky challenges with the expertise and ease of the ultimate connoisseur. More than just a flamboyant tour de force, this Chaconne was also a richly imaginative and strongly expressive musical adventure.
After recovering the use of both hands, Jeremy Denk just as dexterously tackled Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20, which happened to include Brahms' own cadenza last night. Although the music retained Mozart's trademark elegance and lyricism, which especially stood out in the stunning Romanze movement, it also betrayed some uncharacteristically dark and agitated passages, which immediately brought to my mind Don Giovanni at its most dramatic. Completely unfazed, Jeremy Denk negotiated the various moods with flawless technical expertise and genuine emotional finesse, the orchestra superbly coming through on their own under Louis Langrée's highly collaborative baton.
And because the going was so good the soloist just kept going on his own. Our thunderous ovation earned us a poignant interpretation of the 13th variation of Bach's Goldberg Variations, adroitly taking us right back where our evening started.
After intermission, I had the pleasure of hearing Brahms' Symphony No. 4 again, and the journey was about just as sweepingly intense as it had been the previous week. If nothing else, the orchestra sounded in even finer shape and responded even more robustly to Louis Langrée's unwaveringly spot-on and deeply involved conducting. As the endless ovation was slowly subsiding, we dashed out of the hall and made it to the L'Arte del Gelato cart located right around the corner in record time for the de rigueur stop before enjoying our refreshing treats with a view over the Hearst Plaza. Because some traditions are just too good to pass on.