Così fan tutte; Verdi’s Requiem; Jeremy Denk – review

Jeremy Denk
The Guardian

What do women want? Less than you might think. When it comes to the Royal Opera’s new Così fan tutte, a work that addresses the question repeatedly, an awful lot less. Sometimes nothing at all would do perfectly. Here are some of the things women – men too, I dare say – may not want, or not all in the same production of Mozart’s two-act opera: a mock bewigged cast taking a mock bow before the curtain rises, the joke worn thin before the overture is over; a 1940s railway departure scene a la Brief Encounter which then ascends to the flies, wheels still showing like a dropped hem; the four lovers canoodling in a picnic spot in the garden of Eden with fat serpent curling up the tree of knowledge and melon-sized apples ripe for prelapsarian temptation.

On Tuesday at the Barbican, the London Symphony Orchestra and chorus gave the second of two performances of Verdi’s Requiem, the first relayed live on the LSO’s new YouTube channel. Galvanising this choral colossus with characteristic fervour, the LSO’s new principal guest conductor Gianandrea Noseda forged forensic detail with long, overarching phrasing.

Among virtuoso pianists, there are a few who wriggle out of the standard repertoire noose and run free. The Russian-German Igor Levit, who won the recording of the year award at this month’s Gramophone awards for his wild and ambitious Bach, Beethoven and Frederic Rzewski disc, is one. The American Jeremy Denk is another. He studied chemistry to a high level before settling for music, writing deftly about it as well as performing. In one of the opening concerts of Wigmore Hall’s new season he played a programme spanning medieval to modern, almost a mini-history of the invention of counterpoint and harmony, its breakdown in the early 20th century and its renewal – if you want to see it that way – via Philip Glass and Ligeti.

Music written before Bach is a virtual no-go area for pianists playing on modern concerts grands. Here, Denk made Machaut, Byrd, Gesualdo part of a continuum leading to Beethoven, Wagner (the Liszt transcription of the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, supremely well played) and Stockhausen. Since the early works were in some cases written for voices, this was not a history of pianism, but of music itself. Performing with delight and flair, Denk steamed through 24 pieces and six centuries, barely pausing between each, which kept the listener on the qui vive. Various styles elided, collided, colluded with or bumped against what came before or next.
Read the rest of the review here