Pianist Jeremy Denk
Written between 1909 and 1916, Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 1 comprises five movements based upon the story of a late 19th-century Connecticut farming family, whose son has gone off to “sow his wild oats.” The second and fourth movements are raucous scherzos depicting the boy discovering life off the farm, while the other movements encapsulate his anxious, prayerful parents back home. An utterly American work, the scherzos include manic ragtime material along with a less than innocent version of Bringing in the Sheaves (the first lines are “Sowing in the morning…Sowing in the noontime…”). The final movement becomes a virtuosic jumble of everything left in unresolved wonderment.
In proper hands, Ives’s sonata should not be a difficult sell for an audience, given its thrilling level of pianism: before his lucrative career as an insurance executive, Ives studied composition formally with Horatio Parker, a student of Rheinberger. Fortunately, every note Denk touches on the piano is beautiful, and thus the wandering, turn-on-a-dime mood swings from dreamy descending motifs to chaotic splashes were executed by Denk with complete analytical, technical, and emotional authority. Passion and enthusiasm can be contagious: by going the extra mile to personally share his love of this work beyond just playing the piano, Denk elicited the audience's trust in his unexpected programming change, for which most later thanked him.
Anne Midgette, Pianist Jeremy Denk at the Terrace Theater (Washington Post, January 25)
The next piano recital presented by Washington Performing Arts Society will feature Radu Lupu, this Wednesday (January 27, 8 pm) in the Music Center at Strathmore.