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Music in Review: ‘Science Fair,’ Jeremy Denk and the Emerson String Quartet

04.19.16
Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

On paper, the program the pianist Jeremy Denk presented on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall may have looked “slightly unusual” or “possibly insane,” as he told the audience before starting. The first half offered two dance suites: one by Bach, the other a sort of “iPod shuffle,” as Mr. Denk put it.
 
He began with a rhapsodic, fresh account of Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G minor. Then he played a wildly imaginative grouping of 20th-century pieces inspired by, satirizing or paying homage to ragtime.
 
This journey began with a tender account of “Sunflower Slow Drag” by Scott Hayden and Scott Joplin, then segued into Stravinsky’s flinty, discombobulating “Piano-Rag Music.” William Byrd’s “The Passinge Mesures: The Nynthe Pavian,” written more than 400 years ago and, Mr. Denk suggested, a precursor to rag, is a series of increasingly elaborate variations on a sprightly melody and came across as a spiraling rhythmic fantasy in Mr. Denk’s compelling performance. From Hindemith’s percussive Ragtime (from the Suite “1922”), Mr. Denk turned to William Bolcom’s wistful “Graceful Ghost Rag,” then to Conlon Nancarrow’s audacious Canon No. 1, ending with the jazz musician Donald Lambert’s 1941 take on the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” which, with due respect, turns this stirring music into a stride-bass, jazzy romp.
 
After intermission, Mr. Denk gave an elegant account of Schubert’s sublime late Sonata in B flat (D.960), teasing out the music’s dancing character, especially in the fleet scherzo.