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Jeremy Denk Plays Ives dominates “Best of 2010” lists

This fall, pianist Jeremy Denk released his debut solo CD – Jeremy Denk Plays Ives, a landmark recording that underscores the pianist’s special way with the music of America’s pioneering musical maverick, Charles Ives. The composer’s music has traditionally been considered challenging by all but the most die-hard of new-music lovers, yet in Denk’s hands, Ives’s two piano sonatas are rendered “downright seductive (Washington Post), and have been afforded a rapturously warm welcome, winning a place on end-of-year top-ten lists and holiday gift guides from the nation’s most trusted and influential media, including the New Yorker, New York Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post.

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives was released on his own Think Denk Media label. With Grammy Award-winning producer Adam Abeshouse at the helm, it features Ives’s monumental Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord,” and the less familiar but equally intriguing Sonata No. 1. While recognized as an important American original who anticipated many musical innovations to come, Charles Ives (1874-1954) is best known for the dissonance and seeming chaos of his sound world, in which disparate elements are not so much juxtaposed as superimposed, seemingly jostling for space. It is a sensational achievement for Denk to have made this formidable terrain so inviting, to which the album’s inclusion on so many “Best of 2010” lists pays tribute. As Vivien Schweitzer explains in the New York Times’s “Holiday Gift Guide,”

“An Ives disc might seem an unlikely choice of repertory for a debut solo album, but then, there is nothing predictable about Jeremy Denk, whose intellect is manifest in both his playing and his lively blog, Think Denk. Here he vividly conveys the humor, mania, invention, and tenderness of Ives’s fascinating sonatas.”

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives was the only recording to make New York magazine’s “The Year in Classical Music” Top 10 list. Justin Davidson noted, “Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 2 bears the subtitle “Concord,” which refers to the Massachusetts town but also upends the alternative: “Discord.” Even the work’s champions have had difficulty navigating the thickets of harmony, allusion, and eccentricity. Denk’s balance of passion and precision makes its strange beauty come suddenly clear, without losing any of its improvisational radicalism.”

Selecting the disc as one of “Jeremy Eichler’s top 10 classical CDs of 2010,” the Boston Globe singles out the way “Denk conveys both the teeming surface details as well as the quiet inner beauty within this dense, craggy, majestically sprawling music.”  Similarly, in the Washington Post, which lists the recording among the “10 best classical albums of 2010,” Anne Midgette marvels:

“Denk’s piano playing mingles urbanity with unabashed beauty. The combination, coupled with an engaging intelligence, has brought him into the limelight in the past couple of years, and it sheds plenty of light on Charles Ives, who has become something of a calling card on this self-produced CD, which illuminates through thoughtful liner notes and playing that removes the spines from this usually thorny composer, making him less off-putting than downright seductive.”

Jeremy Denk Plays Ives was chosen by Alex Ross as one of the New Yorker’s “notable recordings of 2010,” and it appeared on numerous additional top-ten lists and gift guides across the country. As Gramophone magazine’s Jed Distler observes, Denk’s new recording is a “major addition to the Ives discography.” 

*Sacramento Bee, “Top Ten Gift Guide” by Edward Ortiz


Jeremy Denk Plays Ives
Think Denk Media label
Charles Ives: Piano Sonata No. 1 (1909)
Charles Ives: Piano Sonata No. 2, “Concord, Mass., 1840-60” (c. 1915)

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© 21C Media Group, January 2011

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