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The first time I heard pianist Jeremy Denk was last autumn on a barge moored under New York's Brooklyn Bridge, where he delivered a transcendent performance of the music of Charles Ives.
To hear the versatile virtuoso again in Denver on Friday night was a treat, this time through the gentle intricacies of Richard Strauss' Burleske and a tuneful Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart rondo - both for piano and orchestra.
While attendance at Boettcher Concert Hall was conspicuously sparse, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra and music director Jeffrey Kahane joined Denk in a thoughtful, committed interpretation of Strauss' energetic, waltz-like work.
As always, Kahane purposefully propelled the CSO through brisk rhythms and full-voiced orchestral flourishes. But what drove home the Burleske was Denk's insightful, fleet- fingered phrasings in harmonious alignment with timpanist William Hill's sophisticated rendering of the work's main themes.
Not exactly a household name, Denk then easily exceeded expectations in his solid, astoundingly fluid delivery of the Rondo in D Major. With capable support from the CSO, Denk demonstrated impressive dexterity and emotional depth - and clearly enjoyed his role as purveyor of Mozart's delightfully sunny themes, whimsical turns of phrases and flashes of technical brilliance.
After intermission, Kahane led the CSO sans score through Mozart's exultant Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, attentively teasing out its good humor - as well as its moments of profound pathos. Most notably, Kahane gave careful consideration to the elegant Minuetto that smoothed the way for his intuitive, meticulous direction of the contrapuntal final movement.
Opening the program of pleasing, yet largely unfamiliar works (which may account for the slight audience) was the CSO premiere of George Tsontakis' romantically inclined "Winter Lightning" from Four Symphonic Quartets. Kahane explained - and shared excerpts of - T.S. Eliot's reflective poetry as the work's inspiration, articulating in words both its angular grandiosity and wonderfully soft sweeps of sound.
Yet overall, "Winter Lightning" lacked a sense of cohesion - of unity - in its construction, and therefore proved unsatisfying and at odds with the rest of the program.