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Jeremy Denk in a Full-Blooded Performance at Mostly Mozart

08.02.15
Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

A Google search for scores written for one hand alone reveals a considerable repertory for each hand. The best-known works are for the left hand, like the concertos by Ravel and Korngold, composed for the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I. Injury is often a motivating factor behind such compositions; Scriabin wrote for left hand after an injury to his right. Brahms dedicated his transcription for left hand of the Chaconne in D minor (from Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin) to Clara Schumann, who had injured her other hand.

Brahms urged Clara not to strain her left hand while practicing the piece, which requires considerable firepower (and which certainly sounds like a work for two hands). The pianist Jeremy Denk demonstrated the requisite force during his passionate performance on Saturday evening at Avery Fisher Hall, which opened the Mostly Mozart program, conducted by Louis Langrée. Brahms’s remarkable, faithful arrangement fully conveys the counterpoint and intricacies of the original version; Mr. Denk rendered the individual voices clearly in a full-blooded and colorful rendition notable for its flair and dynamic contrast.

Mr. Denk joined the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and Mr. Langrée for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, a work Brahms admired, and for which he produced a cadenza, performed here. The orchestra played with bristling energy in the stormy introduction, Mr. Denk rendering his opening measures with an attractively limpid sound and singing tone. The orchestra played with vigor, enhanced by admirable contributions from the woodwinds. As an encore, Mr. Denk offered a soulful performance of the 13th variation from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” which has become one of Mr. Denk’s signature pieces.

Read the rest of the review here