Jeremy Denk plays with time, and the program, at the Wallis

Jeremy Denk
Los Angeles Times

When pianist Jeremy Denk says this is "one of the most conventional programs that I play," you might be tempted to mentally add the words, "relatively speaking."

See, Denk made a good deal of his reputation on outlandish challenges — such as programming Ives' cantankerous Piano Sonata No. 1 as a companion piece to J.S. Bach's "Goldberg" Variations at the 2009 Ojai Music Festival. Or sandwiching Beethoven's valedictory Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111, between two books of Ligeti études on his first Nonesuch solo album. Or not playing at all — writing the hilarious libretto for the late Steven Stucky's opera, "The Classical Style."

So yes, Denk's recital at the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday night — which began with Mozart, segued into early Prokofiev and continued with slices of late Beethoven and late Schubert — would seem to be not quite as out there.

There was one program switch: The originally announced Schumann Fantasie in C, Op. 17, was replaced by Schubert's Sonata in B-flat, D. 960. Another piece from the original program, Beethoven's pioneering song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte" in a Liszt transcription (the Schumann work quotes from it), was still listed on the program insert, but not a note of it was played.


Denk did nothing to hide the strangeness of Beethoven's Sonata No. 30, Op. 109, elevating the contrast between tranquil passages and vehement ones. And Denk made a show-stopping passing storm of the penultimate pages of the finale, for which there is no better description than a quote from one of his funniest blog posts: "Trill, baby, trill!"

In the first two movements of the Schubert sonata, Denk really to went to work on the suspension of rhythm, using a variety of little rubatos and silences that may have disrupted the first movement's unity yet elevated its mystery and introspection. There was, however, plenty of rhythm in the scherzo, and the finale had a sometimes playful question-and-answer character.

The Andante movement from Mozart's Sonata No. 16, K. 545, delectably played, ended the evening pretty much where it began — reflectively.
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