Truth in advertising and breathless PR-work can, at times, come
perilously close to mutual exclusivity. I often wonder to what
extent hyperbole-laden copy of media relations personnel backfires,
especially since it usually goes to professionals who have heard
and seen it all and know how to read through the code. Would it
really be so harmful not to make something less seem like a little
more at every occasion?
Simone Dinnerstein’s new release on Telarc, the slick attempt
to spice up every last phrase includes even the title: “Simone
Dinnerstein, The Berlin Concert”. There
are a few pianists who have had a “The Berlin Concert”. Evgeni
Kissin’s debut under Karajan at the 1988 New Year’s concert was
one such event. And, although that could already be stretching
it, so was the concert by Arkadi Volodos with the same Berlin
Philharmonic and James Levine eleven years later. “The Berlin
Concert” has a tempting ring to it. It comes with connotations
of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - which wasn’t anywhere near
Ms. Dinnerstein then or since. And how easily does “at
the Berlin Philharmonic” (Chamber Music Hall) become “with
the Berlin Philharmonic” in subsequent press announcements by
presenters that don’t catch the subtle difference. A strategically
induced ‘mistake’, no doubt.
Berlin Concert” also insinuates that it was a big event with hints
of red carpet, columns of searchlights left and right, and critics
in eager anticipation at the vast 2440 seat Philharmonie.
Whether quite that much attention was given in Berlin’s 1180 seat
Kammermusiksaal (admittedly adjacent to the Philharmonic
Hall), despite the astounding success of her
Goldberg Variations released three months earlier,
is questionable. And no one makes that claim, explicitly.
a sickness of our times that spin - whether in politics, business,
or the arts - is the preferred and predominant mode of public
communication and those of us who object to honesty, straight-talk,
and frankness taking a back seat can only hope that it is not
so much an Orwellian omen but a fad, soon again out of fashion
like excessive shoulder pads.
than to let Simone Dinnerstein’s PR-hounds do the talking, let’s
listen - by way of skipping the artists vacuous liner notes -
to what the music has to say, which is, these four-hundred introductory
words notwithstanding, the ultimate arbiter of a CD’s value.
opens with Bach’s French Suite No.5 in G major, which is in
keeping with her Goldberg
Variation success that brought her from ‘giglets’
in nursing homes to the concertizing limelight. Whenever she
plays Bach, for better or worse, I can’t help thinking that
it’s taken from – or belongs on – a “Bach for Babies” or “Lullabies
for Lovers” CD. The wallowing style has its appeal, but I’m
not sure I’m proud of whatever part in me it is that this
appeals to. Perhaps the one that would like to play piano
itself, to indulge in pianistic exaggeration, the part that
would like to underline everything already in italics and
put in parentheses whatever is in small fonts. Ultimately
I find the ostentation of her mannerisms, the caressing, and
rhythmic freewheeling more detriment than their superficial
seduction a benefit. Recent recordings by Gulda (see review) and especially Till Fellner show that less is (much) more.
is even less I can recommend in the performance of Beethoven’s
last Piano Sonata, op.111. If this is “the last classical
piano sonata”, not just Beethoven’s, but the Omega of its
genre - as Adorno, via Thomas Mann via Wendell Kretschmar
would have it - Dinnerstein sure doesn’t make a case for it.
There is nothing of the patrician heaping of music upon music
that Arrau brings to this, nothing of the crystalline, tight-lipped
energy of (early!) Serkin, and certainly no hint of the momentous
vertical struggle and intellectual rigor that Pollini, in
one of his greatest recordings, has achieved. Worse yet: there
is nothing that Dinnerstein has to offer in place of any of
these qualities; just the notes, played efficiently and with
far it sounds like this CD would already be in my ‘discard’ pile.
Instead I will file it under “L”, and regard it highly. Because
centre-recital Dinnerstein plays Philip Lasser’s Twelve
Variations on a Chorale by J.S. Bach. And that’s what you will
want to hear. The chorale is “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott”
from Cantata BWV 101 and the forty-six year young
Lasser, who is a member of the faculty at Juilliard, finds 12
ways to vary this that are typical of his style which simply calling
“neo-romantic” would be rather too simple. It’s part of a new,
bold melodiousness that is inoculated against the accusation of
kitsch or triteness through sheer quality and originality. Lasser,
and a very select few other composers, manage to write music that
can be immediately established as new, yet uses means that have
been part of the composer’s toolkit for a hundreds of years.
More graphically: Those who like the ‘music’ of John Rutter, Andrew
Lloyd-Webber, or John Williams will find Lasser equally appealing
as those who can’t control their gag reflex at the very mention
of those composers’ drivel.
of all, Dinnerstein’s essentially romantic, eagerly pleasing
style, coupled with her technical faculty, not only allows
the Lasser to shine, it positively contributes to it. Bach
provides the structure, Lasser’s perennial French air absorbs
Dinnerstein’s floweriness, and the audible 21st
century, modern touch assures the whole concoction stays lean
the Bach and Beethoven on this disc the packaging; the former
of which may well conform to many a listener’s taste more than
to mine, the latter which probably can’t be helped. The Lasser
is the center of this musical tootsie roll and it’s worth getting
there, no matter how many licks it takes.
Jens F Laurson