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No question about it: Jeremy Denk loves music. In a recital that began with Mozart’s A minor Sonata and ended with Donald Lambert’s stride version of the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Denk showed an enraptured audience that he loves all kinds of music and never stops discovering new wonders in every piece he plays.

The Mozart was an absolute revelation. This was Mozart with blood in his veins not the anal retentive figure who often represents the Austrian master these days. Denk laid on the pedal and let us really appreciate how much Sturm und Drang is really in this piece. It was exciting and it was deeply expressive. I suspect few if any of the Honens contestants would play Mozart this way but perhaps they should.

Next came Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major Op. 109 in a performance that followed on naturally from the Mozart. More than 40 years had passed between the Mozart and the Beethoven sonatas but Denk made it very clear that both Mozart and Beethoven were expressing similar feelings, the limitations of Mozart’s music language notwithstanding. In any case, last night we heard a performance of Beethoven’s Op. 109 that was as powerful as any I have ever heard.

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And what can a pianist play to top the Beethoven? Why the Scott Joplin/Louis Chauvin rag Heliotrope Bouquet, of course. Denk played this lovely piece with charm and a genuine feeling for the style. And then? Why not more Mozart, this time the crazy little Gigue in G major K. 574. In his spoken intro Denk suggested that Mozart might have been on drugs when he wrote this weird piece, and it is certainly an oddity in the Mozart canon. And after two and a half minutes of that came another rag. This one The Graceful Ghost, a veritable modern classic by William Bolcom. Every time I hear it I am profoundly moved yet again by its grace and melancholy, and Denk played it beautifully.

And then to top it all off why not the solemn opening of the Pilgrim’s Chorus before all hell breaks loose in the left hand. Denk showed that he can bang out stride piano with the best of them. But what fun! And why can’t music be fun, even in a classical music recital.

If classical music has a future it will be because of musicians like Jeremy Denk who know great music wherever they hear it and can’t wait to share it with everyone they meet.

Be sure to have a look at Jeremy Denk’s website, his blog and his tweets. And check out his new book: Every Good Boy Does Fine.




About Author

Former conductor and broadcaster, Paul E. Robinson, is the author of four books on conductors, Digital Editor for Classical Voice America, and a regular contributor to La Scena Musicale.

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