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Making Just One Sonata Last All Night

Jeremy Denk
The New York Times

Usually when people say that less is more, it's bunk: less is less. The real question is whether less is enough.

Jeremy Denk proposed that it can be in his recital at the Kaplan Penthouse on Wednesday, part of the Mostly Mozart Festival's 10:30 p.m. series, A Little Night Music. Many in the audience had just heard a full-length Mostly Mozart concert, and some had started earlier still, with a preconcert recital. But even for listeners who turned up just for Mr. Denk's performance, his decision to play a single work, Schubert's B flat Sonata (D. 960), seemed perfect.

Granted, the sonata lasts only 35 minutes, and performing a Schubert impromptu as a curtain raiser would have brought the program closer to the hour's length these concerts are meant to be. And some listeners, on their way out, said they would have liked an encore.

But this final Schubert sonata is so eventful and so fully packed with singing themes and ingenious transformations that its length is beside the point, and Mr. Denk's nuanced, finely detailed performance illuminated those elements without sacrificing Schubert's broader strokes. A shorter work before it would have been a distraction; an encore would have dissipated its emotional charge.

In Mr. Denk's account, the outer movements perfectly mirrored each other in their balance of relaxed, tuneful reflection and intense passion. He phrased with an appealing fluidity of both dynamics and tempo, and even the most serene passages - the work's first few pages, for example - were suffused with a quiet energy that drew a listener in.

Mr. Denk's varied articulation contributed to that effect: amid the calmly flowing opening figuration, his sharp-edged, tactile bass trill offered a first hint that this would be a richly characterized reading. Mr. Denk maintained that breadth of color throughout the work. The contrast between the sparkling brightness of the Scherzo and the dark hues and emphatically accented bass line in the Trio were a case in point.

No doubt the intimacy of the space played a part as well. No one in the room was very far from Mr. Denk, so even the subtlest shifts in timbre or pacing registered. Certain of Schubert's expressive effects - dropping a thought suddenly and, after a moment's ominous silence, picking up another, as happens in the transfixing slow movement - had a dramatic force that doesn't come through quite as startlingly in a large hall.

The Mostly Mozart Festival runs through Aug. 23 at Lincoln Center; (212) 721-6500, Jeremy Denk is also performing at the Bard Music Festival on Friday and Saturday, (845) 758-7900,; and at the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival on Wednesday and Aug. 17, (631) 537-6368,