Monday, October 25, 2010

Jeremy Denk at Cal Performances

I was impressed that pianist & blogger Jeremy Denk had planned to perform the Ligeti Etudes Books 1 & 2 plus the Bach Goldberg Variations. However, after a late start "due to the rain", Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky announced that Mr. Denk would play Liszt's Dante Sonata instead of Book 2 & not play Etude No. 3 from Book 1. The gentleman next to me was personally offended, saying that it was "disgusting" for Mr. Denk not to play the promised pieces, especially as Book 2 is better than Book 1. There was a further delay when the page turner discovered he had no place to rest the music; the music rack was missing from the piano.

Mr. Denk played the technically cruel Etudes with a surprising fluidity & looseness. He has nicely relaxed shoulders & neck, allowing him to move his head a lot & even look over his shoulder as he plays. The pieces have so much contrapuntal activity that they are difficult to absorb. Pushing things to the breaking point seems to be a common theme. A couple of the pieces have the pianist falling off the end of the keyboard. At the end, Mr. Denk acknowledged his page turner, who must have had a terrifying experience himself. The rest of the recital Mr. Denk played from memory.

Before playing the Liszt, Mr. Denk made a few humorous introductory remarks, & observed that with Liszt's depictions, "You're not sure if you want to end up in heaven or hell." The Dante Sonata is a loud & theatrical piece, & I felt like I was listening to the piano accompany a silent movie.

In the Goldberg Variations Mr. Denk's playing was pleasantly free & varied. I like how he found natural places to pause between some variations. He made the dance character of many of the pieces clear. Sometimes he even made a variation sound like Ligeti, such as when he played the cascades in No. 29 as a single meterless torrent of notes. He received a standing ovation & as an encore offered a repeat of Ligeti Etude No. 5, which in this context sounded like an extension of the Bach.

I was seated in front of John Marcher, & we ran into ced during the intermission, who was himself seated in front of composer John Adams. After the performance, there was an on-stage discussion between Mr. Denk & Mr. Adams. Mr. Denk demonstrated how the 2 hands in Etude No. 1 play in different modes & how they start in sync but shift apart. Unfortunately I could not stay for the entire conversation, as I had to catch BART back to the City for the Dresden Staatskepelle at Davies Hall.

§ Cal Performances
Jeremy Denk, piano

Ligeti: Etudes (Books 1 and 2)
Ligeti: Etudes Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
Liszt: Dante Sonata
Bach: Goldberg Variations

Ligeti: Etude No. 5

Sun, Oct 24, 3 pm
Hertz Hall


Cedric said...

BART! You should have hitched a ride from me and stayed a bit longer at the Q&A. The Adams/teacher - Denk/student dialectic was quite entertaining.

Axel Feldheim said...

Indeed I should have! But at least I know that I was not the only one mad enough to attend both events on Sunday.

David Lasson said...

While your next-seated neighbor's reaction the change in the program seems a bit hyperbolic, I am nevertheless glad that people take their Ligeti seriously.

Axel Feldheim said...

I too was totally impressed that my seat neighborhood felt so strongly about Ligeti. It is good so know that such an audience exists. I believe that Mr. Denk has until April to get his act together for the Carnegie Hall outing of this program. Who knows what might happen there if he decides to leave out the Ligeti!