I’m not big on saving printed programs from concerts—I’ve got too much stuff I’ll never look at again as it is—but made an exception in January of 2017 when I heard Jeremy Denk play a recital now released by Nonesuch as c.1300–c.2000. This was among the most memorable performances I’ve ever attended and keeping the program seemed appropriate. Having the high-resolution sound files is even better.
Denk chronologically programmed two-dozen short pieces, some movements from larger works, which span seven centuries, from Guillaume de Machaut to Philip Glass. All the composers will be familiar to anyone who took a Western Music survey course in college, but this is no “greatest hits” compilation. Writes Denk: “The aim of this recital is to hear all the centuries of music as a single arc and to be conscious of a life cycle.” Both continuity and progress are observed—one of Schoenberg’s Op. 11 Klavierstücke is similar in mood to an Intermezzo by Brahms written just 16 years earlier, even though the harmonic language is vastly different. The “arc” Denk describes is one of increasing complexity and overt emotion that peaks in the 19th century (with Liszt’s transcription of Wagner’s Liebestod) before the material moves back towards more economical and abstract means of expression with pieces by Debussy, Stravinsky, Ligeti, and others. Denk is an exceptionally versatile player: He’s known as an outstanding Bach interpreter (here, he performs the Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor) but also offers artfully ornamented Mozart, stentorian Beethoven, and restlessly emotive Schumann. He plumbs the mysteries of Gesualdo and makes Stockhausen intelligible. The piano sound is immediate, though sometimes a little ping-y.