I'm not familiar with American pianist Jeremy Denk. And according to a review on Amazon which claims "Everybody knows everything Jeremy Denk plays is pretty amazing", I guess I'm out of the loop and need to catch up! That this release comes from the Nonesuch label gives me the incentive to do so. Nonesuch doesn't release much any more, and over the decades has provided many interesting titles, often of unusual repertoire in consistently good sound. So it's time I discover whatever is all abuzz about Jeremy Denk.
Well, "amazing" he may be, but I find his Mozart distracting.
It starts off well in the C Major Concerto with an alert tempo and a freshness which is uniquely attractive. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra plays with precision, minimal vibrato and sparse textures - almost "historically informed performance" characteristics - revealing much inner detail which is also very attractive. And Denk certainly has the chops for Mozart, with crisp fingerwork and a spontaneity which is often missing on record. But Denk can't just play the music; he simply has be AMAZING! And ostentatious. He adds embellishments and flourishes and ornamentations almost everywhere, which, after awhile, are just distracting. Just when you get into the musical line, here comes a trill, or a turn, or a scale, or a flashy flourish which disrupts the music. At first, it's ear-catching and intriguing, but it ends up being too much of a good thing. By the time we get to the second concerto on the CD, I am nervous and anxious, unable to really enjoy it, just waiting for what he's going to DO next to dazzle us.
And there are similar distractions with regard to tempo and dynamics, especially in the D minor Concerto. The constant swells up and back down (in both dynamics and tempos) in the opening Allegro reminded me of grandpa driving the car with his foot constantly depressing then letting up on the gas pedal. And I was getting queasy before it finished. And then the Romance which follows is so relentlessly fussy with tempo fluctuations (and the constant, irritating embellishments) I'd had enough.
Denk's style suits the Rondo in A minor, which separates the two concerti on this program, somewhat better. Without an orchestra trying to stay with him, his waywardness becomes a rather free-flowing, rhapsodic improvisation. Mr. Denk reveals a musical side which, while not unattractive, is not particularly Mozartian. I see he's recorded some Bach too. I can't even imagine what he does to Baroque music.
Great recorded sound. Great orchestral playing. Interesting piano playing - except for all the showing off.