English Suite in G minor, BWV808
Chorale Preludes – Ich ruf’ zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV639 [arr. Busoni]; Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein, BWV734 [arr. Kempff]; Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, BWV147 [arr. Hess]
Sonata quasi una fantasia in E flat, Op.27/1
Simone Dinnerstein (piano)
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 13 May, 2011
Venue: Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Simone Dinnerstein’s recital featured music by Bach that she recently recorded for her Sony album, “Bach: A Strange Beauty”. The Bach works were surrounded by music of Schumann and Beethoven. Her performance reflected a carefully thought-out approach to each piece and virtually flawless execution.
The recital began with Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, a collection of eight short pieces, generally alternating in mood, with titles that are atmospheric rather than programmatic (even though Schumann had several literary characters in mind). Dinnerstein created a dreamy aura for the slow legato line in the heavily syncopated ‘Des Abends’ (In the Evening), and brought out the humour in the more forceful and texturally dense ‘Grillen’ (Whims). Her playing intensified in the last three pieces. ‘Fabel’ began slowly and softly, but that pace alternated with rapid figures that built up in volume and complexity. From Dinnerstein, the ornamented melody that began and ended ‘Traumes Wirren’ (Dream’s Confusions) sparkled above left-hand leaps, and in ‘Ende vom Lied’ (End of the Song) she topped off the work in dramatic fashion, investing its densely harmonised opening theme with grandeur, demonstrating brilliance in rapid, percussive passagework, and adeptly managing changes in dynamics as the music built to a climax and then quietened, ending with three soft chords.
Dinnerstein gave Bach’s G minor English Suite a very lively interpretation that showed off her dexterity and her mastery of counterpoint – the music’s very life’s-blood – as well as her ability to project a variety of moods – bouncy and joyful, sedate, with the ‘Sarabande’ solemn and almost mournful, and the ‘Gigue’ ended the suite with a dazzling pyrotechnic display. After the interval, Dinnerstein stayed with Bach, this time in arrangements by famous pianists. In the one by Ferruccio Busoni (who was also an important composer) Dinnerstein applied the gentlest possible touch with her right-hand as the left played a tolling accompaniment and tension-building arpeggios. She played the simply harmonised opening of Wilhelm Kempff’s transcription brightly, then burst into brilliant and rapid figures above the chorale, culminating in a powerful resolving chord. Dinnerstein launched directly into Myra Hess’s adaptation of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring playing with touching simplicity as she deftly contrasted the familiar melody with the recurring chorale theme in the bass.
The programme concluded with the first of Beethoven’s two titled sonatas entitled ‘Quasi una fantasia’ (the other being the so-called ‘Moonlight’). Dinnerstein played the opening Andante with a delicate touch that contrasted with the more forceful Allegro. In the scherzo, she emphasised the powerful chords that punctuate the main theme, and brought a ‘riding’ spirit to the trio. The charming theme of the Adagio sang out over a tolling accompaniment until a steep upward run, an extended trill and a gentle descent led into the Allegro vivace. Dinnerstein seemed tireless in playing the unrelenting sprightly figures that keep one hand or both in rapid motion, as the jaunty opening theme returned again and again. Dinnerstein offered two encores: a Schubert Impromptu (the E flat from D899) and ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen.
The evening’s only discord came not from the piano, but from an incurably persistent early applauder who interrupted Fantasiestücke after its first section, applauded before the English Suite’s final note had stopped sounding, and burst into applause at the end of the Allegro vivace in the Beethoven sonata, disrupting the return of the Adagio theme.