Enchanting Charm in Variations: Jeremy Denk celebrates Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Jeremy Denk
Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Whenever a pianist or harpsichordist plays the Goldberg Variations in concert, it is often a very special event. The recital at “Bosco”, Gauting’s cultural center, was particularly special since it was Jeremy Denk’s solo debut in Germany (he has become a renowned pianist in the U.S. with recordings of Ives sonatas and a French album with Joshua Bell as well as others, and a very full schedule). Two years ago, the pianist did not only record the Goldberg Variations excellently, but also in a downright exciting way. On a bonus DVD of this album he also gives a supremely charming and eloquent, one hour long introduction to the secrets of this outstanding piece of music. Actually, he could have also done this in Gauting, instead of playing the Rondo in a Minor K. 511 by Mozart and Beethoven’s op. 109 before the intermission… in the closing, wide-spread “Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo” he truly found himself and conveyed in every aspect a persuasive interpretation. This, however, is also the movement whose theme and its variations he reasonably connects with Bach’s concept of variations on his DVD. Thus, the concentrated hour with the 30 Variations BWV 988 was all the more beautiful. Denk, who humorously named his blog “Think Denk” finds a remarkable balance and enchanting charm in the relations between each Variation. He knows exactly when the written-in repetitions make sense for him and when less so; when one has to play “attaca” or when little rests are necessary. The expressiveness of each of the three variations in a minor key, the clarity of the nine strict canons  as well as the ease in the two related “free” variations succeed sublimely. Jeremy Denk often plays in a light nonlegato and is able to illuminate the polyphonic structures as clearly as he shades the dynamics, accurately and sparingly including new ornaments in some repetitions.