Simone Dinnerstein, Pianist
Friday, Jan.31, 2014
DEWING RECITAL HALL
It’s sad that what’s most memorable about a concert is a piano not performing satisfactorily for a gifted, invited performer.
Simone Dinnerstein, known for her self-funded Goldberg Variations CD that catapulted her into the media spotlight, leading to IMG Artists Management and full concert booking, drew on her competitive concert arena survival skills to come out a winner last night despite noticeable hardships. (a tonally piercing Yamaha with false strings reverberating into flatness–ill-tuned within its dire landscape; lacking equal temperament, decent voicing, and regulation was a big hill to climb)
Yet the pianist, with admirable grit, braved the shaky terrain, leveling the playing field with her final offering: Beethoven’s monumental Sonata Op. 111 in C minor.
The opener, Bach’s 15 Two-Part Inventions, that have greater transparency in voicing than Beethoven’s late masterpiece, proved to be a particularly daunting challenge. At intervals, Dinnerstein resorted to soft pedaling when the monstrous, ear-piercing Yamaha became a conquest rather than a tamed repository of beauty. (As most pianists know, sotte voce usually exposes the most imperfect dimension of a modern day grand piano regardless of size and model so controlling dynamics/phrasing at the disposition of fingers, supple wrists, and relaxed arms is essential)
Dinnerstein’s Baroque reading was not particularly nuanced, though in the D minor, no. 4, she captured a somber mood that most pianists fail to associate with a meandering harmonic minor scale sequence. Gould, to my dismay, rushed this one to death with enduring staccato, while Simone Dinnerstein’s interpretation was more appealingly reflective.
In the A minor, No. 13, the pianist insisted on legato throughout, with not one detached note among the 8ths for relief, making me curious about her chosen edition. It was a credible reading though I wasn’t sure what era this one fell into.
The piano’s ponderous character, being most conspicuous in dynamic levels MF (Mezzo Forte) and above, made the pianist sound sporadically insensitive through her Baroque offerings. The G Major French Suite no. 5 that followed 15 Inventions could have been more lyrical in the Allemande, for example, and less bangy in the finale Gigue. (My preference is Angela Hewitt and Andras Schiff’s readings)
After Intermission, Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op. 15 suffered the same depletion of lyricism, though “Poet Speaks” caught my ear at the very end. Often sections of tableaux that required dynamic and emotional contrasts lacked finesse. “Frightening” (no.11) became muddled in the swift tempo change though “Blindman’s Bluff” (No. 3) succeeded by its sheer, unswerving force of energy that fleshed out Yamaha’s DNA!
The tour de force, however, despite audibly conspicuous instrumental shortcomings, was Op. 111, which Dinnerstein masterfully played and communicated. It ushered in an awesome silence at its final cadence that provided a reverential conclusion to a concert that should have been more memorable for its music-making than shabby piano.
If the Mills College Board of Trustees happens to notice this review, please start a fund-raiser to replace the ill-sounding, poorly maintained YAMAHA with a touchingly beautiful grand. It is otherwise inconsiderate to expect pianists of Dinnerstein’s caliber to deal with an uncooperative, sub-standard instrument.