Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tuning Room Variations: Simone Dinnerstein

Preface: One thing that I always intended for the TR was to have discussions about a wide variety of music—not just one particular genre. That said, I didn’t really get off on that foot and so am going to make a bit more concerted effort to do that. I know many of you listen to a wide spectrum of music and so I hope that talk of jazz and classical music won’t send those of you who prefer rock or pop or alt-country running for the hills and vice-versa. And so begin the TR Variations.


Those clever editors at Gramophone recently published a discussion between Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein about the challenges of second albums when your first effort was wildly well-received—clever since Merritt and Dinnerstein’s music have nothing to do with each other. Merritt made her name first with the alt-county work Bramble Rose which got all kinds of attention, while Dinnerstein crashed on to the classical scene with her debut recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations and has just released her second album, The Berlin Concert.

Now as you, dear readers know, when I see reviews of albums that refer to important previous efforts, I tend to go backwards rather than for the current release. And this seemed like a great opportunity to check out Dinnerstein’s work, particularly since I didn’t have any versions of the Goldbergs in my collection. Yes, yes, I know—Glenn Gould! Glenn Gould you say! I have had that disc in my hands multiple times before, but somehow it just felt too predictable (someone will surely correct me). Anyway, I picked up Dinnerstein’s interpretation and let me say that I think it is just beautiful.

What I really like about these pieces are the warmth of the playing. I always thought of the variations as very technical (probably more GG influence), but Dinnerstein’s technique is clean while still having a very round and full sound even on the most challenging fast-pasted pieces. The touch reminds me of how I felt when I heard Murray Perahia play Bach's Keyboard Concertos for the first time.

Multiple reviews I have read since starting to listen to this disc and thinking about this post have commented that what I might most be responding to is the somewhat slow pace of these interpretations (although the more common comment is that Dinnerstein's choice of tempos are unpredictable). In addition, everyone comments on the great sound of the which is a 1903 Steinway model "D" concert grand which according to the liner notes was rescued from the townhall in the Northeast England town of Hull which was bombed heavily during WWII. While all these variables surely matter, I get the sense that what makes these pieces so attractive is the quite confidence of the playing and the interpretation.

Finally, Dinnerstein is all the more interesting because this recording is due to her first borrowing enough money to record the variations on her own, which got Telarc to pick her up and promote her playing. Evan Eisenberg over at Slate has it all wrapped up in his review "The Goldberg Variations Made New: Move over Glenn Gould, here's Simone Dinnerstein."

For those interested, her is the opening Aria and three short movements that make up the Sixth Canon which I think show off Dinerstein's wonderful touch in any tempo.

Variation 18
Variation 19
Variation 20

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