Five Days, Three Pianists, Three Generations

Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

The first half of Jeremy Denk’s fascinating recital at Carnegie Hall on Friday was devoted to themes and variations, beginning with Beethoven’s cheeky Variations on “Rule Britannia,” and ending with his astounding “Eroica” Variations,” a warm-up for the “Eroica” Symphony. The intricate manipulations Beethoven gives his themes in the symphony’s finale are nothing compared to the gnarly gyrations of the piano variations, which Mr. Denk, 48, dispatched with a winning combination of pluck and intensity.

Between the two, he performed John Adams’s swirling, murky “I Still Play” Variations and Mendelssohn’s darkly brilliant and, at times, vehement “Variations Sérieuses,” written in homage to Beethoven. Schumann’s Fantasy in C, which Mr. Denk played after intermission, also nods to Beethoven by quoting a theme from the song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte” in the wistful final episode of the fantasy’s teeming first movement.

This 30-minute fantasy in three movements is one of Schumann’s most ingeniously structured scores, yet Mr. Denk kept you engrossed every moment by fantastical, dreamy, and, in the rousing march movement, giddily energetic flights. This was one of the finest performances I’ve heard of an elusive and challenging piece. As an encore, Mr. Denk, who revels in mood-shifting pairings, played Donald Lambert’s 1941 take on the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” which turns this solemn anthem into something close to boogie-woogie.

Read the full review here