Mozart in Havana (CD review)

Piano Concertos Nos. 21 & 23. Simone Dinnerstein, piano; Jose Antonio Mendez Padron, Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Sony Classical 88985382442.

There are probably any number of reasons American classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein chose to record this album, Mozart in Havana. Certainly, she has a deep and abiding love of Mozart and probably welcomed any opportunity to record the man's music. In addition, with the thawing of political relations between the U.S. and Cuba, she no doubt saw the album as a chance to help the political situation regardless of whether Cuba remained a Communist state. Third, she had performed at a music festival in Havana a few years earlier and surely welcomed the occasion of playing there again. But maybe the main reason is that her first piano teacher, Solomon Mikowsky, was a Cuban Jew of Polish descent who had grown up in Havana and told her stories of Cuba's many musical influences there. I'm sure there are other reasons she made the record, but let it suffice that the album is here and we have it for our enjoyment.

Ms. Dinnerstein (b. 1972) you likely already know. She burst onto the musical scene in 2007 with a well-received account of Bach's Goldberg Variations and has been going strong touring and recording ever since. Accompanying Ms. Dinnerstein on the present disc is conductor Jose Antonio Mendez Padron, the musical director of the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Padron founded the ensemble in 2009, as the booklet note explains, "in collaboration with the Mozart Lyceum of Havana, "an institution co-sponsored by the Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation in Austria. It brings together students, recent graduates and professors from the University of the Arts, the National School of Music and the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory." Moreover, "the orchestra has quickly established itself as a central element of Cuba's musical life."

Simone Dinnerstein
The two Mozart concertos Ms. Dinnerstein chose to perform on the program are among the composer's most famous. He wrote the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 in 1785, and the 1967 Swedish film Elvira Madigan probably did as much as anything to popularize it, making the second-movement Andante familiar to almost everyone. Ms. Dinnerstein plays the piece with a refined grace, yet with a considerable amount of verve and vitality, making everything sound just right, especially in the opening movement. If the second movement sounds a little quicker yet a little dreamier than usual, too, well, that's part of the pianist's style as well. She makes the music her own without distorting it in any way, and Maestro Padron and his Havana Lyceum Orchestra accompany her with a smooth, flowing elegance.

Mozart completed the Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488 in 1786. It is slightly more operatic in tone than No. 21, possibly because Mozart wrote it around the same time as The Marriage of Figaro. In any case, it has more surprises in it than does No. 21 yet remains as melodic as anything the man conceived. Although Ms. Dinnerstein adds her own dramatic touches, she remains above all sensitive and responsive in the music. The result is an energetic realization of the score, with a haunting and intriguing Adagio, followed by a joyful finale.

These are lovely interpretations that should displease no one. More important, perhaps, they should absolutely delight those fans who already appreciate Ms. Dinnerstein's music making.

Adam Abeshouse produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered the album, recording it at Oratorio San Filipe Neri, Havana, Cuba in June 2016. The first thing one notices about the sound is the hall ambience, with plenty of bloom around the instruments and a fair amount of resonance. However, it is not obtrusive but rather flattering to the music. The orchestra is modestly distant, the soloist perhaps a shade too close, the piano spreading out a little too much in from the other players. Detail and definition are on the soft side, while sounding natural and comfortable. Dynamics are also quite wide, providing an overall realistic listening experience.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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