A Pair of Rare Jewels

Jeremy Denk

David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center
07/28/2017 - & July 29, 2017
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Masonic Funeral Music in C Minor, K. 479a [477]
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Opus 58
Franz Schubert: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major, D. 485
Jeremy Denk (Pianist)
Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, Edward Gardner (Conductor)

By Harry Rolnick

Happily disregarding whatever was socially gala about the Gala Opening of the Mostly Mozart Festival, this writer was eager to survey two jewels for the second concert of the festival. And was not disappointed.

The first jewel was, as always, Jeremy Denk. No, he didn’t offer his usual selection of Webern, Ives, Machaut and Zemlinsky. (And if he doesn’t yet play Zemlinsky, he inevitably will). But the chance to hear him play Beethoven’s most moving Fourth Concerto was a rare opportunity. The problem was that Mr. Denk was so glittering, so radiant, with trills and double octaves which sounded like Shaham on the violin, that one simply didn’t want that orchestra to play in the background.

This has nothing to do with the Mostly Mozart Orchestra itself or its young conductor, Edward Gardner. The players are experienced, orchestral musicians, and Mr. Gardner exceed his reputation. But the Mostly Mozart Orchestra is still a pickup orchestra, and there was no way they could achieve the sounds, the acuity, the pinpoint response of the New York Phil.

Perhaps later in the season they will accumulate the comradely skill to offer personality or at least that special brio which leads to excitement. At the present time, they are competent but dull.

Then again, any orchestra accompanying Jeremy Denk has an Augean challenge, for he is in a class of his own. To repeat, those manifold Beethoven octaves, those trills, all the technical legerdemain offers Mr. Denk a singular path which few pianists can offer. He didn’t sail through those demands as they were the simplest things in the world. Nor did he show off just how brilliant his technique was. Instead, he made every note count, he gave each phrase a silken lining, he allowed the most arduous task to become a gem of artistry rather than a hurdle set by the composer.

Mind you, one must be accustomed to Mr Denk’s sometimes physical exaggerations. That is easy enough. He doesn’t walk on stage, he literally skips on stage. He didn’t turn the Fourth Concerto into a work of great profundity, but gave it a dance-like grace from the very first introductory bars, and he was not averse to waving his hands when finishing a balletic phrase.

Read the full review here.