Classical CD Reviews
Simone Dinnerstein, piano: The Berlin Concert = BACH: French Suite No. 5 in G Major; LASSER: Twelve Variations on Bach’s “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott”; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor; BACH: Goldberg Variation No. 13 – Telarc
Published on August 4, 2008
Recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie 22 November 2007, this album becomes Simone Dinnerstein’s much-anticipated second disc for Telarc, a brightly probing set of pieces each of which emanates from the pen of J.S. Bach or owes that source innumerable debts. The music of New York composer Phillip Lasser (b. 1963) adds a modernist series of colors to the mix, though Dinnerstein would likely claim that all the works reveal the Janus-faced propensity to look forward and backward at once.
Dinnerstein opens with an idiosyncratic version of Bach’s genial French Suite in G, a vehicle that has proved idiomatic for such diverse personalities as Gould, Backhaus, Schiff, and Gilels. Sporting a pair of quick, fleet hands, Dinnerstein manages many an agile passing tone and grace note to the written pages, a moment of gentle wit or ornamental bouquet to an already rich mixture of courtly and peasant dances. The application of a strong sense of legato in the Sarabande and brisk staccati in the faster movements, like the concluding Gigue, testify to the diverse palette the whole evening would enjoy.
The dark chorale theme Lasser chooses (2001) seems well suited to our lingering sense of that fateful year’s miseries and requests for grace. The often angular, modal, and jazzy variations on the plaintive theme attest to a thorough assimilation of musical styles in Lasser, much as Bach imbibed an international musical culture into his own persona. The Largo resonates with bluesy introspection, a hint of Erroll Garner or John Coltrane. Variation 6, marked Allegro vivace, provides Dinnerstein a swirling etude of almost Russian character, a la Rachmaninov; the ensuing Robusto even more so. Variation 8 will remind some of the several “Hungarian” variants Brahms concocted after having first presented his Handel theme. Brahms and modal Liszt converge for Variation 10, Presto, quasi una Toccata. The ninth variation, with its filmy ostinati, echo as much Debussy as Bach, although its later musette quality rings with Ravel’s clarity, luxuriating in the piano’s overtones. The eleventh variant is called Variation of Variations, the longest of the set, an arpeggio-laden moment whose opening suggests Moussorgsky, but it evolves into a jazz improvisation as aware of the Second Viennese School as it is of Bill Evans. Legato sweetness opens the Variation 12, Andante con moto, whose repeated notes adumbrate the Beethoven C Minor Sonata, while the clarion sonorities nod at Les cloches of Ravel.
The Beethoven C Minor Sonata, Op. 111allows more of the demonic–I daresay,
Lisztian–side of Dinnerstein to emerge than any of the previous pieces. The pregnant pauses of the opening Maestoso emerge refreshed, in the same exhilarated manner as we get from Haskil and Michelangeli. To make the grudging, halting figures dance and sing in the midst of their often contrapuntal fury is no mean trick, but Dinnerstein has the tumultuous Allegro con brio alternately roaring and purring according to her lights. Dazzling wrist action and stop-on-the-dime pyrotechnics illuminate the “mingled measure” of Beethoven’s descents in to the emotional maelstrom, a colloquy of entropy and renewal.
The Arietta and extended variations from Beethoven proceed no less devotionally than playfully, one of those visions of Empedocles of a child trying to build sand-castles along the edge of an eternally antagonistic sea-shore. The nuclei form, converge, and dissipate in a panoply of colors and elastic figures, many of them inflamed by Promethean fire. The brisker passagework achieve the same jolting canter as the jazz variants in Lasser. The more diaphanous effects–particularly the massive trills Dinnerstein negotiates–sing, as they must, of eternity, just as Yeats advocates.
Dinnerstein’s encore derives from her signature piece, the Bach Goldbergs. The music combines aspects of sarabande and siciliano, glittering, delicate, intricate, prayerful. Dinnerstein assumes the mantle of Bachauer and Tureck, the new high priestess of musical art.
– Gary Lemco