Classical CDs Weekly: Mozart, Poulenc, Jeremy Denk

Jeremy Denk
The Arts Desk

Jeremy Denk c.1300 – c.2000 (Nonesuch)

Pianist and polymath Jeremy Denk's double album of “sonic snapshots” is one musician’s personal history of western classical music. Naysayers might take issue with some of Denk’s choices and the fact that the earliest pieces here are vocal works in piano transcriptions. Or that Bach and Mozart share a playlist with Philip Glass. Still, I defy anyone not to be impressed by the beauty and intelligence of the playing, Denk’s rapt take on Guillaume de Machaut’s Doulz amis underlining how stark and uncompromising this music sounds to modern ears. The first half contains the novelties, items by Dufay, Gesualdo and Janequin tracing the development of counterpoint. Byrd's A voluntarie marks a significant development in having actually been written for a keyboard instrument, the subsequent pieces by Scarlatti and Bach marking the shift from modes to major and minor keys.

After which we hit more familiar territory, reaching Ligeti via Chopin, Brahms, Debussy and Stravinsky. Having Stockhausen segue into Glass via a single held note is a masterstroke, and a nihilistic Ligeti Etude doesn’t quite get the last word, Denk instead reprising Gilles Binchois’s haunting Triste plaisir. 90 or so minutes of stimulating brain food, ideally consumed in a single sitting.
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