fri 21/06/2024

Denk, Danish String Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - metaphysical strings, the piano as chameleon | reviews, news & interviews

Denk, Danish String Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - metaphysical strings, the piano as chameleon

Denk, Danish String Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - metaphysical strings, the piano as chameleon

Programming disorded by delayed flight, but the effect was still dizzyingly brilliant

Ever-attentive Jeremy Denk and the Danish String Quartet (violinists Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Frederik Øland Olsen, viola-player Asbjørn Nørgaard and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin) in Schumann's Piano QuintetAll images c The Wigmore Hall Trust, 2023

Few pianists manage stylistic perfection in both Mozart and Ligeti, but to Jeremy Denk it seems to come naturally. We should have heard the riveting contrasts in quick first-half succession, but European air traffic control had wasted much of the Danish String Quartet’s day and they hadn't arrived by the start of the concert. So perfect programming went out the window and Ligeti had to stand alone before the interval.

I wonder if in the original order we’d also have got Denk’s short talk before the first book of Ligeti Etudes. He’s a natural here too, demonstrating ideas without looking at the keyboard, remaining out front and personal with the audience. It takes a special clear-headed cool to then plunge straight into a lucid contradiction of the first Etude’s title, “Désordre”, rhythms jazzy and lines highly profiled. The listener can’t grasp all that’s going on in Ligeti’s deadly serious fun and games, but Denk made us feel as if we could.Jeremy Denk plays LigetiI’m not sure that Book 1 works best as an unbroken sequence – still hoping for the Ligeti Quartet’s magnificent Aldeburgh Festival programme of new string homages, which Denk and the Danes need to hear and champion, to be interwoven with the piano originals – but our concentration was never allowed to lapse. No surprise that the piano needed interval tuning after the focused climax of “Automne a Varsovie”.

After which Denk turned deeply human questioner, challenging three of the Danes  to match his improvisatory-feeling phrases in Mozart’s Second, E flat Piano Quartet. Predominantly sunny it may be, but in the first two movements the strings kept their sphinx-like mystery, ghost respondents to the flesh-and-blood wit and wisdom of the pianist. That they could unleash full force became apparent in the young Britten’s Three Divertimenti – a March, Waltz and Burlesque which on this evidence deserve to keep company with the three mature quartets, even if the composer withheld them from publication after a ludicrously wide-of-the-mark Telegraph crit. Far from being “depressing rather than diverting,” as the reactionary writer opined, they keep us on our toes with the light-of-touch skewering of the forms; you can see why the original programme had the Ligeti and Britten as the questing counterpart to Mozart’s and Schumann’s originality in each half. Denk and Danish String QuartetSchumann’s favourite among his chamber works, another E flat masterpiece in the shape of the Piano Quintet, frames a heart of terse darkness with cascading light. The spare funeral march meets quite a different visitor within the slow movement as the music takes wing; I’ve never heard it sound more luminously metaphysical than it did in the hands of the fascinating Danes, an angel lightly touching human grief with its wings. I hadn’t noticed that cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin, having already not had time to don his concert wear in the Mozart due to the delay and dovetailed so seamlessly with viola-player Asbjørn Nørgaard that they sounded like one instrument, broke a string during this transfixing flow of contrasts. It occasioned another departure from the expected as the musicians left the stage at the halfway point. Whether the interruption upped the adenalin or not, the Scherzo and Finale teemed with a special energy to crown an equally special evening.

The listener can’t grasp all that’s going on in Ligeti’s deadly serious fun and games, but Denk made us feel as if we could

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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