LIGETI Etudes, Books 1 and 2. BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 32 • Jeremy Denk (pn) • NONESUCH 530562-2 (67:13)
Jeremy Denk first came on my radar with a lovely essay in The New Yorker about recording the Ives “Concord” Sonata. His voice—intelligent, obsessive, self-deprecating—was a breath of fresh air in classical-music musings, and also got to the core of a lot of issues all of us deal with in thatRead more ambiguous space between live performance and archival product. So I leapt when this release came available.
And it’s a doozy. As Fanfare readers know if they read me at all, my tastes and judgments are driven more by repertoire than performance, but I’m certainly not immune to the quality of the latter. What’s really wonderful about Denk’s interpretations here is that he’s obviously thought them out very carefully; they’re brainy, but at the same time they never skimp on passionate engagement, nor do they fall into mannered rethinkings just for the sake of difference. I particularly love his Beethoven, which doesn’t allow the final variation movement to dissolve into the pool of limpidity that often is the case; throughout its course there’s always a sense of near-volcanic passion that can erupt … and actually does a couple of times. Denk’s touch is steely, but the sound is still full and rounded: a nice mix.
The other impressive thing that shows off Denk’s smarts is the programming. Ligeti is already ascending to Old Master status posthumously, but still, pairing him with Beethoven? (My first thought would be Debussy.) But Denk makes the case, by stressing the similarity between the two composers in their intricately tangled, original figuration. The Beethoven is placed between the two books of the Ligeti etudes; with a suitable pause separating each end of the sonata, it’s quite dazzling how well they transition from one to the other. This is particularly the case with the end of the Beethoven going to Ligeti Book 2: The delicate flurry of Gamlamb Borong seems a natural continuation of Beethoven’s ethereal fluttering, and only gradually does one become aware of how much the harmonic context has shifted.
Denk strikes me as a worthy successor to the sort of pianist represented by Gould, Brendel, and Pollini, a sort we always need to keep the field honest when it comes to the very classical repertoire. Buy this, but not for the repertoire—it’s already well covered many times over, even the Ligeti—but to hear a substantive new interpretive voice.
ExplorationsJuly 18, 2012By Gary Duncan (Boston, MA)See All My Reviews"Mr. Denk feels a link exists between the Beethoven and the great trickster and illusionist of modern music, Ligeti,in Beethoven's timeless canvass and Ligeti's bite size bits of infinity and proceeds to play showing this in an exceptionally masterful performance that may be slower than other performances of the pieces, but at a tempo that may be the most exciting yet recorded. I may note the BBC Music Magazine for August selects this CD as the top, 5 stars for performance, 5 stars for recording. Exploring these two composers with such an insightful performer as Jeremy Denk may be one of your best choices to add to your own collection."Report Abuse
Poor PairingJuly 13, 2012By JAMES M. (PHILADELPHIA, PA)See All My Reviews"The Beethoven performance was excellent; the Ligeti was terrible ! They are a poor fit"Report Abuse