The good news is that Shriver Hall Concert Series, displaced by renovations being made to its namesake, has a decent alternate venue for the fall season at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where pianist Jeremy Denk delivered an absorbing recital Sunday evening.
The bad news is that the relocation is going to have to last all season, not just the first half, as originally planned. Johns Hopkins University, home of Shriver Hall, has informed the concert organization that the project won’t be finished until July.
While efforts are underway to determine where the January-through-May performances will be held, a few words about Sunday’s.
On the first half of the program, Denk explored late works by Mozart and Beethoven (he dropped the original scheduled Prokofiev score).
In Mozart’s poignant Rondo in A minor and the Andante movement of his richly varied Sonata No. 15 in F major, the pianist’s exquisitely subtle touch allowed the music’s play of light and shadow to emerge poetically.
Denk likewise phrased the finale of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E major with wonderful nuance, rhythmic and tonal, to bring out the profound lyricism.
Virtuosity was the focus after intermission. Denk, who has been exploring more pre-Bach music lately, deftly limned Sweelinck’s colorful Variations on “Mein junges Leben hat ein End.” Without breaking for applause, he then offered a gem of the Romantic era, Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes. The pianist made both pieces sound spontaneous, inevitable.
When it came to the most thunderous passages of the daunting Schumann work, Denk didn’t exactly burn up the keyboard (his was a more genteel sort of bravura), and he lost some clarity of articulation in the busiest passages. But this was still very impressive pianism that made it easy to appreciate the breadth and depth of Schumann’s imagination.
Not surprisingly, Denk’s phrasing hit a peak of interpretive warmth in the introspective 11th Etude. And his deft modulation of dynamics enabled him to keep the reiterative material in the 12th from wearing out its welcome, a tricky feat indeed.