Jeremy Denk and friends – an intimate performance that invited the audience in

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Lammermuir festival’s artist-in-residence Jeremy Denk is a multi-faceted, intelligent pianist, equally at home playing solo Bach in recital, as he did over the weekend, or concertos with orchestra as he will demonstrate in the closing concert. This concert in the spacious surroundings of Dunbar parish church presented Denk in the guise of chamber musician performing Schubert’s Trout Quintet with an ensemble drawn from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Denk is a natural, instinctive educator with a rare ability to reach out to his audience. It’s unlikely that many in the Dunbar crowd were familiar with the Second Violin Sonata of the thoroughly original Charles Ives. The American composer’s characteristic technique of creating musical collisions – one of his works was inspired by hearing two marching bands playing simultaneously – can seem baffling and impenetrable at first hearing. Yet as Denk introduced the work before the performance with violinist Maria Wloszczowska, he explained the idiom in a few well-chosen lines and a beautifully played musical example, giving the work a folk-song inflected Scottish connection. The result: a rapt audience completely engaged with the performance that followed.

As a staple of the chamber music repertoire, Schubert’s Trout Quintet needed no such introduction. With Denk and Włoszczowska joined by a trio of players from the SCO, violist Felix Tanner, cellist Su-a Lee and double bassist Nikita Naumov, this was an intimate performance that invited the audience in. It’s easy to think about live music as the experience of being performed to; this was a reminder that some of the best performances are like overhearing a private conversation among friends.

Lammermuir festival continues until 20 September.

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