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Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G major (1931) [22:38]
Philip LASSER (b.1963)
The Circle and the Child: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2012) [27:39]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue (1924) [17:43]
Simone Dinnerstein (piano)
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/Kristjan Järvi
rec. July 2014, MDR Orchestersaal, Leipzig
SONY 88875032452 [68:42]

What is being celebrated here is, according to the disc blurb, ‘the time-honored transatlantic link between France and America’ heard through the music of these three composers. Time-honoured or not, the listener will want to know what kind of performances these are.

In a sense it’s easier to say what they are not: not flamboyant, not overtly expressive, not rhythmically vitalising, and not especially colour-conscious. Against that verdict they are sometimes wistful, a little withdrawn, and poetic to a degree. In the Gershwin we experience both these elements. Simone Dinnerstein is certainly no Oscar Levant or Earl Wild, but there are surely a number of permissible latitudes within which a pianist can convey Gershwin’s music. Her very different aesthetic succeeds in drawing the Rhapsody closer to a more conventional concerto. Kristjan Järvi seems very willing to accompany her thus but for me there is a pile-up of negatives. The opening paragraphs are impassive, the Leipzig Radio Orchestra never responding to the clarinet with any sense of rhythmic anticipation. The paragraphs lie flat and heavy. Impulse is wholly lacking. The phrasing, both soloistic and orchestral, is both too angular – too tense – and too shapeless. As the Rhapsody goes on you can feel the winds sometimes trying to pep things up but it’s no good. There’s no adrenalin rush at the end, and no real rhythmic vitality. The recording has plenty of detail but it’s not very atmospheric.

The Ravel is played with finger precision and clarity, and one feels the conductor has a firmer grasp of the metier, but the end result doesn’t sound, for all the nuance, natural. There’s a slightly studied, or over-studied element at work. And the slow movement is also just a touch over-poeticised and over-accented by Dinnerstein when perhaps a plainer though still poetic approach is what is best needed.

The other work is by Philip Lasser, whose The Circle and the Child is a concerto written for Dinnerstein in 2012. It’s a strange affair, and longer than either of the companion works. At its centre is a chorale by Bach, Ihr Gestirn’, ihr hohen Lüfte which presumably also refers to Dinnerstein’s credentials as a Bachian. Throughout there’s much filigree to be heard, some warmly consoling and mildly dissonant lines too, but much is predominantly Light Music. This is no bad thing, and it shows rich romanticism in places too, but it could be more compact to its great advantage.

I felt throughout, with the exception of the Lasser, a lack of idiomatic naturalness in these performances.

Jonathan Woolf