Machaut: Doulz amis, oy mon compleint
Binchois: Triste plaisir et douloureuse joie
Ockeghem: Kyrie, from Missa prolationum
Du Fay: Franc cuer gentil, sur toutes gracieuse
Josquin: Kyrie, from Missa “Pane lingua”
Byrd: A Voluntarie, from My Ladye Nevells Booke of Virginal
Gesualdo: O dolce mio tesoro
Monteverdi: Zefiro torna e di soave accenti, SV 251
Scarlatti: Sonata in B-flat Major, K.545
Bach: Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
Mozart: Andante, from Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K.283
Beethoven: Allegro molto e con brio, from Sonata No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 10
Schumann: In der Nacht, from Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, No. 5
Chopin: Prelude in C Major, Op. 28, No. 1
Chopin: Prelude in A Minor, Op. 28, No. 2
Liszt: Liebestod, from Tristan und Isolde
Brahms: Intermezzo in B Minor, from Klavierstücke, Op. 119, No. 1
Schoenberg: Mäßige Viertel, from Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11, No. 1
Debussy: Reflets dans l’eau, from Images, Série 1
Stockhausen: Klavierstücke I
Glass: Étude No. 2
Ligeti: Autumn in Warsaw, from Études, Book I
Binchois: Triste plaisir et douloureuse joie
Being a technically flawless and emotionally expressive – not to mention delightfully entertaining – performer is already a blessing not bestowed upon just any musician, and being on top of it a brilliant writer, talented composer, ambitious programmer and engaging presenter is even rarer, but New York pianist Jeremy Denk has proved many times over that he could handle it all without any noticeable fuss.
And the ever-inquisitive music man did it again on Wednesday night in a Alice Tully Hall packed with an obviously very dedicated and genuinely excited audience, when he closed Lincoln Center's White Light Festival with an 80-minute, break-free series of 23 works spanning six centuries entitled "Medieval to Modern", the appealing experience being heightened by insightful program notes, a good-humored introduction, and occasionally faulty but generally helpful surtitles above the stage.
The concert opened with probably the least-known works, secular and religious compositions that were some of the greatest hits of the Middle Age and Renaissance and that Denk played with much conviction and sensitivity in his own arrangements for the modern piano.
After attractive madrigals by Gesualdo and Monteverdi, we happily entered blazingly virtuosic territory with Scarlatti's perky Sonata in B-flat Major, K.545, before fully indulging into Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903. As it was, the longest piece of the program also turned out to be one of the most memorable peaks of the evening not only because it symbolized the beginning of a new era, but also because its impeccable rendition effortlessly conveyed the outstanding structure and the emotional power of the composition.
The transition to Mozart was seamless, and the subtly lyrical Andante from his Sonata No. 5 in G Major sounded remarkably fresh and inherently elegant, in true Mozartian fashion. It was followed by a surprisingly subdued but still totally fitting submission for Beethoven in the beautifully lilting Allegro molto e con brio from his Sonata No. 5 in C Minor.
Schumann and Chopin kept the Romantic mood alive before Liszt and his soaring transcription of "Liebestod" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde imposed itself as one of the undisputed highlights of the concert with the right combination of intensity and finesse. It was followed by a nice, but in truth unnecessary, intermezzo by Brahms.
A momentous break came next with Schoenberg's "Mäßige Viertel" from Three Piano Pieces, in which tonality shockingly disappeared and endless possibilities suddenly emerged, making a logical progression of the modern portion of the program impossible, but a scrumptious, wide-ranging bouquet of random goodies most welcome.
So we got to fully indulge in Debussy's delicately colored "Reflets dans l’eau" before Stravinsky's wildly rhythmical "Piano-Rag-Music" unexpectedly and unceremoniously jolted us out of our rêverie. In Denk's expertly adapting hands, Stockhausen's "Klavierstücke I" probably sounded as boldly radical on Wednesday night as it did back in 1952. It was cleverly followed by the perfect antidote to controlled chaos that is Glass' quintessentially minimalist Étude No. 2.
One last modern serving was Ligeti's festive "Autumn in Warsaw" before we moved right back to the troubadour lament of Binchois' "Triste plaisir et douloureuse joie". We had pretty much come full circle is this by default incomplete tour of Western music history, therefore our music-packed evening ended with an extended ovation and, regretfully but understandably, no encore.