By Philippa Kiraly
Bach, to my mind, is the only Baroque composer whose music always survives with triumph, whether it’s played on period instruments, modern instruments, steel band, sung by the Swingle Singers, or given a rock beat.
Simone Dinnerstein‘s instrument of choice is the modern grand piano, and her program Wednesday night on the UW President’s Piano Series incorporated one of the composer’s English Suites, No. 3, and three transcriptions of different well-known Chorale Preludes by Bach from well-known pianists of their day: Italy’s Ferrucio Busoni, Germany’s Wilhelm Kempff and England’s Dame Myra Hess.
Beautifully designed, the program opened with Schumann’s “Fantasiestuecke” and ended with Schubert’s Four Impromptus, D. 899.
From the outset, Dinnerstein’s performance captured the listener through her profound understanding of the music and intelligent reading of the composer’s wishes. In each work, the supremely satisfactory interpretation was underpinned by penetrating intellectual research, original thinking and respect for the composer’s intent.
Her Schumann was a conversation between Schumann’s imaginary characters, Eusebius and Florestan. Here they were larger than life people with decided ideas, from the exquisite opening “Des Abends,” performed gently with tenderness, each note clear as a bell, yet deliberate and flowing, to the playful, quite forceful “Grillen” with its humorous moments. Each of the seven sections with one or other or both of the characters highlighted aspects, and the whole built up a portrait of the two.
Dinnerstein is not afraid to use dynamics and emotion in her Bach performances. They can be bold and strong, yet stylistically appropriate, and well articulated with every note clear. The somber “Sarabande” in particular reached a rare depth of sorrow, and then she played the ensuing Gavottes with a light, bouncy touch, meticulous and delicate.
Of the transcriptions, the Busoni, “”Ich ruf’zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ,” and the Hess, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” were compositionally the most skilled and satisfying to hear. The Kempff, “Nun freut euch, lieben Christen,” at first with the melody over heavy bass chords, lost some of its shape later with extremely fast runs in the right hand which obscured the melodic line in the left.
One could describe Dinnerstein’s performances of the Schubert as brilliant, but that word only conveys the technical prowess. Satisfying is better. One could enter into the music’s moods with the lively runs, the fire and fury, the rippling slow parts, the light–as-a-feather finger acrobatics around the keyboard. Dinnerstein is a performer’s performer. Not fussy, not showy, she sits down and plays in a way that commands respect for her understanding of the music and admiration for the way she carries it out.
Thisis the second time I have been to Meany Theater with the screen portraying the performance above the performer, so that those sitting on the left can see the pianist’s hands.
I find it distracting, and need to make a conscious effort to block it out.. From upstairs the view of the player is distorting—a bit elongated like El Greco—and that’s disconcerting. If I want to hear a performance looking at a screen I might as well listen to a TV concert or online . I come for the live performance. I don’t want something in between.