Jeremy Denk at Wigmore Hall – Bach & Schubert

Partita in G, BWV829
Four Impromptus, D935

Jeremy Denk (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 18 March, 2019
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Jeremy DenkPhotograph: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationReviewed from live broadcast… Jeremy Denk opened this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall with G-major Bach, clear in sound and direction, vital in rhythm, shapely in phrasing, with enough light, shade and easefulness/extemporisation to leave in no doubt that a receptive human-being was seated at the piano, and he went through the ‘Praeambulum’ and the subsequent six dances as if through-composed; and, although tempos were consistently well-judged – never rushed, or with the ‘Sarabande’ (IV) too solemn – it was all over in fifteen minutes due to not many repeats.

The Schubert, his second set of Impromptus, was also kept on the move, avoiding the torpor that can be apparent; each piece rippled with musical and emotional incident, songfulness too. The A-flat number (II) was especially affecting in its plentiful sentiment without applied sentimentality and especially affecting in the undulating middle section, the epitome of Denk’s private, public and dynamic approach to this cycle that belies its title. The B-flat theme-and-variations was highly characterised: dance-floor measures, intimate provisos, ornamented skittishness.

Following a chiselled account of the F-minor Impromptu, Denk offered a now-familiar encore – a jazzy version of the ‘Pilgrim’s Chorus’ from Wagner’s Tannhäuser in a striding arrangement by Donald Lambert; sacrilege for some, great fun for others; Denk brilliant. R3 presenter Sara Mohr-Pietsch must have Denk’s latest recording; she was so keen to plug it, more than once, which felt gratuitous in this context. Very good relay otherwise; sometimes performers can be made distant in this venue from this broadcaster; whoever engineered this one was faithful to the Wig’s immediacy.

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