Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – Jeremy Denk plays Bach Keyboard Concertos

Concertos for Keyboard, Strings and Continuo:
in A, BWV1055
in G minor, BWV1058
in E, BWV1053
in F minor, BWV1056
in D, BWV1054
in D minor, BWV1052

Jeremy Denk (piano & director) with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Adam Barnett-Hart, Ani Kavafian, Erin Keefe, Jessica Lee, Kristin Lee & Sean Lee (violins); Paul Neubauer & Richard O’Neill (violas); Nicholas Canellakis & Fred Sherry (cellos) and Edgar Meyer (double bass)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 4 December, 2012
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Jeremy Denk. Photograph: J. Henry FairReprising the first of three programs in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s Baroque Festival, Jeremy Denk played and directed an eleven-member string ensemble in six concertos by J. S. Bach. Seated with his back to the audience, Denk played a concert grand piano with almost entirely salutary results, achieving a fine balance with the strings. Only in the Larghetto of the A major Concerto, where the solo part serves principally as ornamentation to the strings’ melodic line, did I feel that a harpsichord would have been distinctly superior. In these spirited performances, Denk generally opted for rapid tempos, resulting in dazzling passagework and bouncy, dance-like rhythms.

The centerpieces of both halves of the concert were arrangements by Bach of his familiar violin concertos. Denk’s agile playing brought out admirably the more intricate figurations and harmonies of the keyboard versions, while retaining the essence of the originals. In the outer movements of the G minor Concerto Denk set a livelier pace than most violinists in the A minor version (BWV 1041), and his quick tempo in the opening Allegro of the D major Concerto, from the E major Violin Concerto (BWV 1042), made the ornamentations seem to fly by. Each of the other concertos on the program is also thought to have been adapted by Bach from earlier, now lost, works.

The D minor Concerto that concluded the concert was the most dramatic. In the opening Allegro, Denk’s nodding gestures to the string-players were more emphatic than at any time, and the interplay of the piano’s passagework with the strings was intense, with a passage setting high-register figures against the violas a particularly lovely moment. The Adagio featured a singing piano line with airy trills, and the spirited finale came to an almost breathless halt in the cadenza.

The ensemble played superbly throughout. The violinists played a continuing game of musical chairs, taking turns playing the first and second violin parts and also rotating through each section. The violists and cellists also shared first-chair duties. Edgar Meyer’s double bass provided constant and excellent underpinnings, with an occasional fine melodic turn as well. In the slow movements the strings played with great delicacy, whether carrying a melodic line or supporting Denk’s intricate figurations.

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