Sunday, October 7, 2012

Simone Dinnerstein in Recital: Winning Schumann

The first concert of the Minnesota Chopin Society's 30th season was Simone Dinnerstein's October 7 recital at the new Mairs Concert Hall at the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center on the campus of St. Paul's Macalester College. The program had much to offer: well-known pieces by Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Bach, and a relatively new piece by contemporary composer Daniel Felsenfeld.

The concert hall renovation is quite remarkable. The old hall had a shopworn feel to it and some odd bits, including some unusual mezzanine seating. The new hall is a stunning dark red, features what appear to be sound-buffering wood panels projecting from the wall at right angles, and generally has a very warm feeling.

Because the concert was sold out, it was necessary to place some seats on the stage and I promptly grabbed one that was about twelve feet from the piano bench, as depicted above.

Dinnerstein wore a dress that was black below with gold embroidery and flowing grey chiffon on top. Because I was so close, I could see that her hands were shaking slightly as she commenced and as she played the first piece, Chopin's D-flat Nocture, op. 27, no. 2. The tempo seemed quite slow, perhaps in the manner of Arrau. Dinnerstein seems not afraid of slow tempi, as demonstrated by many pieces in this recital and this part of her style is often winning, but I did not think that the Chopin was her most successful offering. Beautifully played, but not spectacular. At the conclusion of the piece she launched into the next. It seemed that some of the pauses between movements within a piece were very long, but it was clear that Dinnerstein did not want to interrupt the flow of the concert with frequent bouts of applause.

The second piece, a piece written for Dinnerstein, Felsenfeld's Cohen Variations, was very enjoyable, based as it is on the haunting tune from Leonard Cohen's Suzanne. There were several quite slow variations and these seemed to bring out Dinnerstein's best in this piece.

The Brahms Intermezzo in A, op. 118, no. 2--again launched into with dispatch--is an old personal favorite because it was included on an old Van Cliburn Brahms disc, one of the first discs I ever purchased. By the time the Brahms ended it was clearly time to pep things up just a bit, and, after a brief retreat, Dinnerstein came forth to offer Bach's Partita No. 2. Dinnerstein is, of course, known for her Bach. Her 2007 recording of the Goldberg Variations topped the Billboard charts and for a time outsold popular contemporary artists. I addressed this recording in an earlier post on Glenn Gould. Going into this recital, my personal favorite recording of this Partita was the legendary 1980 Bach recording by Argerich, which included a Toccata and an English Suite. Dinnerstein did not eclipse Argerich, but that's hardly fair because I don't know how many tries Argerich had when working with those crackerjack German sound engineers of old Deutsche Grammophon days. Dinnerstein's playing was excellent, but I did not feel electrified or that she was in any way pushing any of the pieces in the Partita to the breaking point. The audience was well pleased with the first Bach offering of the program.

At intermission I must admit I was slightly disappointed. Beautiful music, but nothing had blown me away. But this changed with the performance of Schumann's Kinderszenen, which began the second half of the recital. I have heard this piece in recital perhaps a dozen times. This was the best performance I have heard on disc or in recital and it was also Dinnerstein at her very best. From the opening notes of Von Fremden Ländern und Menschen to the end of Der Dichter Spricht Dinnerstein deftly strung together these thirteen pianistic pearls for the lucky audience. Träumerei was enchanting--and again played at what seemed to me a very slow tempo. Because I was so close, during some of the passages I could hear the nuances of the the notes decaying and melting into nothingness. This was astounding pianism.

The program concluded with Bach's Partita No. 1. I thought this benefited greatly from having been preceded by the Schumann. The connection Dinnerstein had with the audience now carried through to the end of the recital. I found myself wishing that she had started with the Schumann and perhaps ended with the Chopin Nocturne.

The one encore was Bach, reportedly the Courrante from French Suite No. 5. A lovely way to end the concert.

Of course, no comment on a piano recital is complete without a review of the audience. I detected very few problems: few coughs, minimal rustling--all told a very considerate audience. There was someone on stage who had a nearly inaudible electronic device go off during the encore and I did hear a few seconds of people on the stage talking during the performance, but all in all probably as good as it gets.

Dinnerstein and the Minnesota Chopin Society came through again!

Ten Recommended Classical Recordings: A Sampler for Those New to the Classical Scene

The following is a list of classical recordings that offer a variety of classical genres: opera, symphonies, keyboard, violin concerto, solo cello, piano concerto, and oratorio. Though it is mostly mainstream with respect to the represented composers, it reflects a variety of interesting sounds.

Because the list is intended for someone who is starting to explore classical music many of the recordings are now budget issues. If you have thoughts on the list or would like to pipe in with your own, please do!

1. Mozart: The Magic Flute; Sir Colin Davis, conductor, Staatskapelle Dresden, orchestra; Rundfunkchor Leipzig, choir; Moll, Schreier, Price, Serra, Melbye, Venuti; Philips Duo, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 1994.

2. Beethoven: Symphonies No. 5 and 7, Carlos Kleiber, Wiener Philharmoniker; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1975 and 1976, released on CD in 1996.

3. Bach: Keyboard Pieces, Toccata, BWV 911; Partita BWV 826; English Suite No. 2, BWV 807; Argerich; Deutsche Grammophon, recorded in 1980, released on CD in 2000.

4. Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D; Brahms: Violin Concerto in D; Jascha Heifetz; Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; RCA, recorded in 1957, released on SACD in 2005.

5. Panorama—Edvard Grieg, two discs of various piano and orchestral works; Deutsche Grammophon Panorama, recorded on various dates, released on CD in 2000.

6. Bach: Six Unaccompanied Suites for Cello; Yo-Yo Ma; Sony, recorded in 1983, released on CD in 1990.

7. Mozart: The Great Piano Concertos, Vol. I—Brendel; Sir Neville Mariner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; Philips Duo, recorded in 1972-82, released on CD in 1994.

8. Handel: The Messiah; Sir Colin Davis, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Philips Duo, recorded in 1966, released on CD in 1994.

9. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1; Martha Argerich, Philips, recorded 1982 and 1980, released on CD in 1995.

10. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-4 (separate disc one); and Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 5-6 and Orchestral Suite No. 1 (separate disc two), Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; EMI, recorded in 1985, released on CD in 2004.