41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
Visceral, dark, beautiful,
This review is from: Ligeti / Beethoven (Audio CD)
I'd never heard of Ligeti's piano etudes or Jeremy Denk until he was interviewed on Fresh Air with Terry Gross a few months ago, though I've been a serious student of jazz piano and a more than casual fan of classical.
The interview and the samples from this recording it featured so entranced me that I spent the next 12 hours researching Ligeti and Denk, and have continued doing so (though with lesser intensity) in the months since. Jeremy Denk is extremely intelligent yet very accessible--both in terms of his playing and his discussion of the music.
As to the music itself, other reviewers have called Denk's performance "astonishing." To that, I would add "visceral," "dark," and "beautiful." Ligeti's pieces are among the most challenging a pianist can attempt; often times, the two hands are doing completely different things at the same time - playing in different keys, different time signatures, different dynamics, and playing phrases that move in different directions. Denk said, perhaps half-jokingly, that Ligeti was trying to punish pianists who attempt to play these pieces. Denk said that, to learn them, he basically locked himself in his apartment for months, with only his coffee maker and his piano, and kept practicing different fingerings and so forth.
It's also challenging to listen to these recordings. There's a lot going on. To my fellow Ligeti newbies, I think it would be every helpful (as well as enjoyable) to listen to that interview I mentioned (which you can easily find online).
You cannot help but be affected by Denk's performances. Repeated listenings are essential, especially for the Ligeti newbie. First, you hear chaos or confusion. Then, order. Finally, beauty. The experience of listening to this disc is visceral, challenging, and rewarding on an intellectual level and an emotional level.
I'd like to add that I appreciate the engineering of this recording. The sound of the piano is different than on other classical recordings I have (including the new recording by Denk and Joshua Bell, which is very different than this but also quite wonderful). It's hard to describe, somehow darker yet sumptuously beautiful. It has something to do with the way the piano is miked, the room in which it was recorded, and of course the way Jeremy Denk plays.
Lastly, I'd like to mention with some reluctance that I find it very odd that Beethoven's Sonata appears right in the middle of a bunch of Ligeti etudes. My reluctance is because Jeremy Denk is a lot smarter than me, and putting the Beethoven in the middle of the Ligeti makes perfect sense to him. He explained it in the interview, and in the liner notes, which are very well-written. Yet, every time I listen to this disc, I just don't get the connection.
Now, I am NOT saying Denk's performance of the Beethoven Sonata isn't wonderful--it *IS* wonderful. To me, the inclusion of these tracks is a sweet bonus for people who buy this terrific Ligeti disc. But it just FEELS to me like they don't belong in the middle of the Ligeti, maybe better after the Ligeti etudes.