“The Berlin Concert” (Telarc)
By Don Heckman
Okay, let’s start with full disclosure. I’m not usually a fan of Bach’s music played on a contemporary piano. Not because it can’t be done well. Glen Gould killed that rumor, many times, over and over. What bothers me has more to do with the instrument’s sonorities, as well as its mechanics. Too many of the Bach-on-the-piano recordings I’ve heard flow from the piano-as-orchestra concept, essentially missing the point of the music. Worse, In doing so, they rarely manage to elude the aural dominance of the instrument, itself, which is ever present as the carrier of each note.
Simone Dinnerstein’s recording of the Goldberg Variations (“Bach: The Goldberg Variations,” also on Telarc), however, proved me wrong on both counts. And this new CD, recorded during a concert at the Berlin Philharmonic on Nov. 22, 2007, underscores the accomplishments of the previous recording. Here, as in the Variations, Dinnerstein’s playing is utterly transparent, transporting the listener beyond the mechanics of pianistic production, into the music itself. How it is made becomes irrelevant to what one hears — to the intimate connection Dinnerstein creates with the composer’s imagination.
Although works by Bach only make up a third or so of the program, his presence permeates the other pieces as well: Philip Lasser’s Twelve Variations on a Chorale by J.S. Bach — Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott from Cantata 101— and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 Lasser’s Variations, reaching from an 18 second Piu Vivo to a climactic 3:37 minute Andante con moto. tred an adventurous path from Baroque counterpoint to a segment or two with distinct touches of jazz balladry. Dinnerstein travels it with ease.
The Beethoven Sonata, his last, is as challenging in an interpretive sense as it is technically thorny, especially in the stunning cross-currents of the Arietta movement. Listen for the subtle emotions of the anthemic opening, the swing she brings to the middle, ragtimey section, and her astonishing trills.
The two Bach segments — the French Suite No. 5 in G major and, as an encore, Variation 13 from the Goldberg Variations — are yet another reminder of her intuitive link with the music of the Baroque master. Combined with her Beethoven insights and her capacity to handle the contemporary complexities of the Lasser work, they provide further authentication of her status as the most fascinating new classical pianist arrival of the decade.