Jeremy Denk’s 600 years of music

Jeremy Denk’s recital in Philadelphia tonight, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, was an astonishing tour-de-force: 24 pieces drawn from 600 years of music.

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img_1736The very early music was of course the greatest novelty for a piano recital. Not knowing the original pieces in every case, I can’t say how much “arranging” Denk did, but I can say that the playing was colorful, with contrapuntal textures clearly delineated, and flexibly dancing rhythms.

The big extroverted pieces stood out, inevitably – the Bach, the Debussy, the Liszt/Wagner. But there were memorable smaller pieces as well – Stravinsky’s cubist evocation of ragtime, the profoundly inward Brahms, and the scintillating Scarlatti sonata among them. I’m glad to have heard the Stockhausen live for the first time; I wonder if I will ever hear it again?

Denk ordered the pieces wisely, creating not just a satisfying recital program, but a narrative arc, a through-line. For those of us who live in music, he told the story of our lives. I am grateful to have heard that story told with elegance, flair, and imagination.

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