Postponed from July, Jeremy Denk’s online recital was limited to one single work: Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6. Until very recently announced as part of the program, Schubert’s Impromptus were not included. Truth be told, 92Y – a long-term backer of high-quality musical events in New York – added to the stream a separately recorded lecture featuring Mr. Denk talking extensively and enthusiastically about Schumann’s work that has been for decades among his favorites.

Jeremy Denk © 92Y
Jeremy Denk
© 92Y

The MacArthur Fellowship winner is certainly a very expressive speaker, especially on a topic he holds so dearly. He talked about Davidsbündlertänze as a “curated series of dances”, a wedding present to Clara Wieck whose mazurka was the starting point of the composition. He talked about how Schumann assigned – in the first published edition of the opus – different pieces to Florestan, the extrovert, to Eusebius, the introvert, and to both. He exemplified “odd harmonies” and “bits of yearning music... looking for continuity”. Nothing he mentioned was really new. At a high level, you could find similar comments published on Denk’s blog back in 2005. Nevertheless, despite the insightful lecture being longer than the actual interpretation of the work, one had the clear impression that Denk, in his quest to shed more light on a masterpiece that is not played as much as it should, was ready to discuss many more details.

Tuesday night video was filmed with a single camera and the microphones were placed too close to the piano. There are clearly better recordings available featuring Jeremy Denk playing Davidsbündlertänze. Still, the interpreter certainly succeeded again to convey the unique character of the score, emphasizing the pervasive fluidity between different states of mind. He brought forward all those wonderful details, an expression of Schumann’s unbridled, miraculous inventiveness: the surprising dissonances and syncopations, the switching back and forth between major and minor, the occasional conflict between binary and ternary rhythms. At the same time, he carefully constructed a totum where Florestan and Eusebius’ voices are always present, complementing each other. Denk made sure we pay attention to movements’ pairings as well as cesurae. Everything was painted in tentative but colorful nuances. At no point were any Romantic excesses displayed. Enthusiasm was tempered by doubt. Melancholy by hope. Humor by sadness.

Of course, some part of the public might have preferred listening more to Jeremy Denk playing the piano instead of lecturing. Maybe, though, these kinds of mixed presentations are a valid and enticing way to go forward, at least while regular musical events are not expected to resume here in there near future.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.

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