Bach: English Suite No. 3 in G Minor, BWV 808
Hayden/Joplin: "Sunflower Slow Drag"
Byrd: "The Passinge Mesures: The Nynthe Pavian" from My Ladye Nevells Book
Hindemith: "Ragtime" from Suite "1922"
Bolcom: Graceful Ghost Rag
Nancarrow: Canon No. 1
Lambert: "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Tannhäuser
Schubert: Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960
After a busy Saturday with Donizetti at the Met in the afternoon followed by Puts and Mahler at Carnegie Hall in the evening, the next morning my mom and I were gearing up for another musical adventure at Carnegie Hall again, this time for a Sunday afternoon "ragtime sandwich" courtesy of pianist Jeremy Denk. The intriguing description amazingly enough turned out to be accurate as his recital would consist in an "iPod shuffle" of various works with one connection or another to ragtime, which would be bookended by bona fide classical composers in Bach and Schubert. But then again, what else do you expect from one of the most creative and multi-faceted music artists of our times?
The concert started in full Baroque mode with Johann Sebastian Bach and his English Suite No. 3, which we got to enjoy in a deeply insightful and delightfully free-spirited performance. Denk's profound knowledge of the score and innate communication skills allowed him to easily connect with the audience while strongly emphasizing the piece’s timeless appeal.
The ragtime portion of the program was as educational as exciting. One of the highlights was the wildly rambunctious "Piano-Rag-Music" by Igor Stravinsky, who was a Russian expatriate in Paris when he discovered the joys of popular American music and did not hesitate to appropriate them for this thrilling little number. Another was Donald Lambert’s bold take on the "Pilgrim's Chorus" from Tannhäuser, which gave Wagner’s sumptuous composition an irresistible jazz spin that would have been right at home in any 1940s jazz clubs.
The quintessential ragtime hit "Sunflower Slow Drag" by Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin had kicked things off in style and they only got better after that. We went back to 16th century England with "The Passinge Mesures: The Nynthe Pavian" from My Ladye Nevells Book by William Byrd, whose elaborate intricacies fit right in this series. Paul Hindemith’s chaotic "Ragtime" and Conlon Nancarrow’s playful Canon No. 1 turned out to be wild romps that brightly resounded throughout the concert hall, with William Bolcom’s nuanced "Graceful Ghost Rag" strategically slowing things down right in between.
After intermission, we were back on more familiar territory with Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B-Flat Major, which was his last and is widely considered to be his most accomplished sonata. One could only agree with that statement while listening to Denk put his technical expertise to the service of the composer’s ambitious ideas and exposed emotions. After the rollicky fun ragtime episode, Schubert’s work brought us inner peace and quiet.
The dedicated audience was clearly ecstatically happy with their unusual musical afternoon, and we still wanted some more. So it was back to square one with Bach and a thoughtful Variation No. 13 from The Goldberg Variations, wrapping up a virtuosic performance on an ultimate virtuosic note.