Simone Dinnerstein: Broadway-Lafayette (CD review)

Music of Ravel, Lasser, and Gershwin. Simone Dinnerstein, piano; Kristjan Jarvi, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra. Sony Classical 88875032452.

This is another of those kind of, sort of theme albums, the producers telling us that "the music on this album celebrates the time-honored transatlantic link between France and America through the music of three composers--George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel and Philip Lasser." It suggest also "the French-American connection as the Marquis de Lafayette and his French troops helped the American colonists out against the British during the American Revolution." OK, a tenuous link if you ask me, but it's awfully good music and well handled by American pianist Simone Dinnerstein, conductor Kristjan Jarvi (another in the musical Jarvi family, son of conductor Neeme Jarvi and brother of conductor Paavo Jarvi), and the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The program opens with the Piano Concerto in G major by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). The Concerto has always struck me as one of Ravel's most-imaginative works, full of jazzy bustle one moment and the tenderest grace the next. It's done up not only in Ravel's usual impressionist style but most expressive as well, and unless the pianist is careful the piece can appear merely as a series of clamorous rants and dreamy allusions. One past master of taming this sometimes unwieldy beast was Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who in a 1957 recording for EMI (now Warners) showed how beautifully crystalline and elegant the music could sound. Now, Ms. Dinnerstein gives it a shot, and she, too, finds joy in the work.

Dinnerstein emphasizes the jazz element in the first movement, perhaps to show the work's connection to Gershwin all the better. Yet she keeps it fairly light and atmospheric, too, never making the music appear too showy. Does it fully capture Michelangeli's magic? No, but it's close. Ms. Dinnerstein does even better in the touching second-movement Adagio assai, which embraces a sweet, Chopin-like quality. In the final Presto, Dinnerstein fully engages the composer's blazing technical displays, yet also manages to find some respite along the way. If the whole is still not quite so coherent as Michelangeli's account, it is nevertheless satisfying, with good support from Maestro Jarvi and the MDR orchestra.

Simone Dinnerstein
Next, we find the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra "The Circle and the Child" by American composer and pianist Philip Lasser (b. 1963). Lasser's work, composed in 2012 especially for Ms. Dinnerstein and here receiving its premiere recording, is a different sort of animal from the others on the program. Lasser says of the concerto that it "speaks of memory, inner voyage and closeness," the circle "a powerful metaphor for life." Fair enough, if fairly vague and ambiguous. He uses as the basis for his composition a Bach chorale, and the piece does possess a delightfully melodious nature. Like most modern music, though, it doesn't rely too heavily on memorable tunes, relying mostly on creating mood, which Dinnerstein provides nicely, along with the orchestra's continual reinforcement.

Things close with the perennial favorite Rhapsody in Blue by American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937). In Gershwin it's hard for me not to think of Bernstein's classic recording for Columbia (now Sony) or Previn's (EMI) or Gershwin's own, reworked by Tilson-Thomas (Sony). Still, Ms. Dinnerstein puts her own stamp on the piece and makes the music a bit more tender than we usually hear it, a bit milder and gentler, though still filled with dazzling finger work. While I wouldn't call it as energetic an approach as the ones mentioned above, it's an interpretation that's easy to live with, and it reveals a sensitive side to Gershwin that is most flattering.

Adam Abeshouse produced and engineered the album, recording it at the MDR Orchestersaal, Leipzig, Germany in July 2014. The sound is warm and smooth, with no rough or jagged edges in sight. Nor have the engineers recorded it too close up; instead, it has a moderate distance involved, making it sound all the more realistic (if at the expense of sounding a trifle soft). Ultimate transparency, therefore, is only so-so, yet that's the case with many concert-hall performances, so one can hardly complain. Figuring into the equation a mild resonance as well, let's just say the sound is pleasingly comfortable.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa