Day 1. First reading. Apparently the charming, devastatingly handsome pianist of the group (a certain Jeremy M. Denk, Esq.) is a wee grumpy. There is some disagreement about tempo, with the group dividing more or less strings vs. piano (how unusual!), which devolves further and further into animosity. When asked his opinion of a passage just played, Mr. Denk opines: “unbearably tedious.” Mr. Isserlis thinks this is “not exactly encouraging.”
Day 2. On to the third movement. Mr. Denk is all sweetness and light, but no one seems to believe in his smiles, suspecting irony. (Perhaps correct?) Three hours into the rehearsal, we seem still to be in the development section, though it is hard to tell. Fugatos are waddling everywhere like stilted Russian chickens, in horrendous keys like G# minor with gobs of double sharps. We dash madly for the coda, seeking fulfillment and completion. Each tempo marking seems to be paradoxical in a different way, and we perversely enjoy explaining to ourselves things such as “sempre piu a tempo”!
For the first time, the name Celine Dion is invoked to explain the ecstatic arrival point of the first movement.
Day 3. It is theorized that Mr. Denk was “jetlagged” on Day 1, in an attempt to explain his ongoing delightful demeanor. (Mr. Isserlis makes a scoffing comparison: “I guess Hitler was jetlagged.”) It is a veritable virtuoso exercise in charm, despite a return to the controversial first movement and its tempo marking of 46 to the half note, which drives the pianist half out of his mind. (The pianist begins to suspect he may be in the clutches of madmen: these people not only want to play the Medtner Quintet, but they want it to last as long as possible.) The Celine Dion moment is mounted at a kind of Messiaen-on-quaaludes pace, and finally the string players believe they have reached too sluggish a world; the pianist feels vindicated, and is allowed to broach a more flowing tempo. He oozes ahead, emotes.
Composers: don’t write hymns or chorales any more! Please! After the rehearsal, the second violinist, a certain Mr. Francis, and Mr. Denk are so inspired and feel so deeply, emotionally committed to the score that they begin to invent words for the hymn theme of the last movement.
Cornish ale helps to inspire certain turns of phrase. These words cannot be printed here, for copyright reasons. I can only say that the recurring, tonic-centered phraseology suggested certain recurring, urgent sensual implorings.
Day 4. We attempt to take in the whole work. The last movement needs to be addressed yet again, and its manifold themes gathered within the sausage casing (if you will) of a pulse, an architectural prophylactic.
Again, Mr. Francis and Mr. Denk are magnificently inspired after the rehearsal; they feel the need to fulfill this inspiration by finding expressive anagrams for the name Nicolai Medtner. Various combinations “[blank] enema” fail miserably, and this tragic impossibility is confirmed by computer. The computer however comes up with:
All of this is part of the extremely serious rehearsal procedure here at IMS Prussia Cove. (“Jeremy Denk” is also tried, and becomes Jerk My Need.)
We play through the last movement entirely without stopping. The work is therefore scheduled for performance (kidding!). Stay tuned, there will be updates here at Think Denk!!! If you are anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, I think you should try your darndest to come to tonight’s performance in Camborne, Cornwall, England. The program:
Golijov: Clarinet Quintet (Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind)
Schubert: Winterreise, Part 2 (arr. for tenor and string quartet?!?)
Medtner: Piano Quintet
This program will likely never be heard again, and survivors will be given cream tea, warm blankets, and a consolatory hug. There is, by the way, a pub right next door to the venue; I’m just saying.