Jeremy Denk at Zankel Hall, November 11 — Ives & Beethoven

Thanks to my singing colleague and friend Janet, who was off to Rochester to hear a Europe-based singer, I had a nearly-front and center seat at Jeremy Denk’s beautiful recital at Zankel Hall on Tuesday. The huge black piano was like an ocean liner on the stage. Wearing a charcoal suit and shirt and a silver tie that matched his hair, Denk walked on, nodded briefly to the assembled enthusiasts, and without fuss set sail on the Ives “Concord” Sonata. Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata made up the second half. I am by no means qualified to review the concert, but I thought I could register a few observation.

— I was moved by the focus, intensity, and self-sufficiency evident in the performance. Maybe you always get this in solo recitals; I don’t go to many. But, without histrionics, without faux-Romantic gestures calculated to demonstrate profundity of feeling (and without the printed music between him and the sound), Denk moved into each of these two tremendous pieces and possessed them for three-quarters of an hour.

— I was completely persuaded by Denk’s assertion, and realization, of the kinship between these two sonatas. Leaving aside Ives’ subversive quotations throughout the sonata of the Fifth Symphony opening, he follows Beethoven, if more programatically, in his sudden shifts in tone — arguments, even, that with the suddenness of human argument elide from fury to resignation, order to confusion, musing to action (and the reverse, of course).

— I am delighted to find that Jeremy Denk joins me in finding Beethoven funny.

I worried that I would sniffle or sneeze at the wrong time — the sneezes came upon me as I rode the F train to the concert, opening salvos of a cold that kept me home from work Thursday and with which I’m still contending — but by sucking hard on the Ricolas the hall gives away, I managed to keep down the annoying noises. Also, in both pieces, soft sections are rapidly followed by forte action, so a sniffable moment was never far away.

Anthony Tommasini’s review in the Times, here.

Coming Attractions updated.


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