With Simone Dinnerstein's new release on Telarc, the slick attempt to spice up every last bit of her bio includes even the CD's 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.) "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 Philharmonie" (Chamber Music Hall) become "with the Berlin Philharmonic" in subsequent retellings.
"The 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), is questionable.
Well, better than harping on the finer points of "Recital" vs. "Concert", let's listen - by way of skipping the artist's vacuous liner notes - to what the music has to say, which is, these introductory words notwithstanding, the ultimate arbiter of a CD's value.
She 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 and especially Till Fellner show that less is (much) more.
There 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 mechanical accomplishment.
So 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.
Best 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 and clean.
Consider 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.
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Barely three stars for Bach; barely two for Beethoven, but five for Lasser. That makes for 3.33 stars which I'll round up because in this case the value of the CD is more defined by what's best on it than by what's worst. As for the breathless praise found in other Amazon comments: De gustibus. It depends on what type of listener you are and chances are you know which category you'll fall into.