Tuesday, November 25, 2008

An American in Berlin

Simone Dinnerstein
The Berlin Concert
Telarc, 80715

Simone Dinnerstein is an American pianist who shot to prominence with a 2007 release of Bach's Goldberg Variations. Born and raised in New York (where she still resides), she studied under Peter Serkin at Julliard. With her first-release home run at age 35, it is not surprising to find a poised and mature artist tackling substantial pieces.

This present release is the follow up to that debut, a live recording from 11/22/07 at the Philharmonie in Berlin. In addition to her undisputed mastery of Bach, we are treated to a late Beethoven sonata, and the 12 Variations on a Bach Chorale by American composer Philip Lasser.

I discovered her on iTunes, and found a couple videos (from Telarc) on YouTube. I have to say that her manner at the keyboard (from video) is a bit off-putting to me, seeming a touch affected and theatrical in contrast to a pretty down-to-earth manner when speaking. But the proof is in the sound, and this recording shows Ms. Dinnerstein in a most flattering light.

Glenn Gould casts a long shadow, and it's difficult for me to listen to anyone's piano Bach and not compare their work with his. Gould was notorious for seeming to give equal treatment to each of Bach's contrapuntal lines, which makes for a challenge even for the listener. But there are a lot of ways to accomplish the task, and the great Bach pianists to follow Gould--AndrĂ¡s Schiff and Angela Hewitt come to mind--have found their own ways to do the works justice. Dinnerstein more readily invites comparisons to these latter two artists than to Gould. Her playing is pianistic; she does not attempt to imitate a harpsichord. But her technique is clean and confident, and one cannot but look forward to how she might tackle the Well-Tempered Clavier, say.

Philip Lasser's work is new to me, but it has the most auspicious foundation, Bach's haunting harmonisation of the Lutheran hymn Nimm von uns, Herr, du Treuer Gott, BWV 101, (a chorale tune also used by Mendelssohn in his Sixth Organ Sonata). It's clearly a contemporary work, but it stays comfortably tethered to the original tonality in a successful blend of the old and new. Dinnerstein plays it as though she wrote it herself.

The recording is fantastic. There is nary an audience sound, and the piano's image and the minute shadings and harmonic minglings are perfectly captured. Some of my favorite organ recordings are from Telarc, though they have been quiet for a while. It's great to see them back in the saddle so impressively.

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