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Bach, Front, Sides and Back

New York
Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleeker Street
08/28/2008 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach: French Suite Number 5 – Aria da capo from Goldberg Variations
Philip Lasser: Variations on a Bach Chorale

Simone Dinnerstein (Pianist)

S. Dinnerstein (© Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)

A famous etching of Franz Liszt in his prime depicts the pianist sitting at a piano on a platform barely a foot high, surrounded by a jewel-bedecked audience, the ladies swooning, the gentlemen listening intently, the pianist himself gazing heavenward, his hair sweeping way beyond his shoulders.

Brooklyn pianist Simone Dinnerstein almost fit the picture in the one-time Village Voice, now Le Poisson Rouge last night. The piano was barely a few inches from the floor. The audience sat around the piano, at tables, on chairs, on all sides. They weren’t wearing jewelry, but they did sip wine or swig free beer, courtesy of Ommegang Brewery, They certainly didn’t swoon. (Hey, Noo Yawkuhs do lotsa stuff, but swoonin’ ain’t wunna dem.) Yet they were entranced .

Ms. Dinnerstein kept her eyes firmly on the score or on her keys, but her hair trickled down almost as far as Liszt’s. And while this mini-concert lasted less than an hour (compared to Liszt, whose salon recitals ran three or four hours), Ms. Dinnerstein managed, like Liszt, to show off a contemporary composer amongst her three works.

But one must ask what she was doing down on Bleeker Street, exhibiting music which is coming out on a Telarc Record for a concert made in the austere Berlin Philharmonic Kammermusiksaal. She was simply adding another event to the most eclectic music hosted by Le Poisson Rouge.

In less than a year, this one-time locus for jazz-lovers has provided a home for avant-garde, 17th Century opera, more jazz and musics which simply don’t fit in anywhere else in New York. Just as new rock disk gives previews at clubs in this area, Ms, Dinnerstein played two of the three works which will be coming out sometime this summer. Some years ago, it would have been another Simone named Nina. This was a Simone named Dinnerstein, with equal artistry

Well known for her delicate touch and clear transparent keyboard style, Ms. Dinnerstein gave the contrapuntal lines of the Bach Fifth French Suite a balance and clarity which was especially appreciated in these close quarters. True, sitting by the left of the piano, a few tables back, the bass lines were more prominent than usual, but it was fun to trace what would be lost in a concert hall.

She did employ a variety of styles here. In the slow sarabande, Ms. Dinnerstein sometimes plucked at the piano like a harpsichord. In the lovely gavotte, she plunged ahead piano style. And the gig was taken….well, at a velocity which Bach’s own keyboard could never have managed. But it was all quite an exquisite performance.

The “modern” work was Philip Lasser’s Variations on a Bach Chorale, in this case the rather gloomy Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott I use “modern” in quotes, because, until the last of the 12 variations, the piece could well have been written by Rachmaninoff, not simply for its lushness and sharp changes of rhythm, but those Rachmaninoff quirky harmonies. All that was missing was a romantic interlude or a quote from the Dies Irae

Yet if one thought too often of the Russian’s Corelli Variations the work was very listenable. Right after the chorale itself, the music took off in different directions, and only a pedantic theorist would be able to trace its origins. But it seemed highly pianistic, and Ms. Dinnerstein, obviously in love with the work, made it sing under her fingers.

The last piece was dedicated to her parents, celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary that night. She chose the Aria da Capo from the Goldberg Variations. Possibly it was a subliminal message that good things –unlike Ms Dinnerstein’s bagatelle of a concert—should never end.

Harry Rolnick



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