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Music Review: Big hall not a good fit for Simone Dinnerstein

Her all-Bach piano recital draws a crowd at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Monday night with help from well-priced seats. But her concert may have worked better in a more intimate setting.

June 20, 2012|By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic
  • Pianist Simone Dinnerstein at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.
Pianist Simone Dinnerstein at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Simone Dinnerstein performed an all-Bach piano recital at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Monday night. Although she's been just about everywhere else, including on many morning TV shows, and although the CDs of her dreamily ethereal Bach sell like hot cakes, this was her first appearance in our neck of the woods.

Maybe that makes sense. She is the daughter of outsider painter Simon Dinnerstein and while she now sports big-bucks management and a Sony Classical contract, her career has been unconventional. She follows her own curious path, playing this summer, for instance, in a bookstore benefit in her native Brooklyn as well as appearing in prestigious international summer festivals, such as the one in Verbier, Switzerland.

But first the encouraging scene at Segerstrom. The hall, too seldom well attended, was nearly full. Dinnerstein's CDs and publicity machine (NPR is keen on her) have given her a following. But something else was in play. Jointly sponsored by the Philharmonic Society and the Corona Del Mar Baroque Music Festival, the recital was popularly priced, with tickets starting at $15. The boxes were $45, which is less than a fifth the price some big-name performers fetch in this hall.

Here was yet another indication that when concerts are affordable, people come. Many on Monday, moreover, were newcomers, as the Philharmonic Society's Dean Corey made clear in his welcoming remarks and amusing instructions about clapping. Applaud every movement of the multi-part partitas and suites on her program, he said, "and we'll be here until the cows come home."

His cautions worked, although they may not have been necessary. Dinnerstein creates a spell if you buy her romanticized approach to Bach, which on this occasion included the first two of Bach's six partitas, the Fifth French Suite and the Third English Suite. If you don't buy that approach, she can seem a soporific, even sophomoric, pianist who sucks the energy out of Bach. Not everyone returned after intermission.

When Dinnerstein's glowing account of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations came out five years ago on a self-produced CD, she was a fetchingly fresh voice. She revealed an opulent melodic sense. Her way of allowing harmonies to hang in the air was alluring, seemingly profound. And her sound was that of the piano in full bloom.

Now, however, those qualities, while still intriguing, have become exaggerated and on Monday began to seem like mannerisms. I haven't heard her in an intimate setting, but I suspect that she is not best encountered in a large hall, and maybe on the recording is where she is most effective.

She has a regal bearing and little charisma on stage. The partitas and suites, all made up of dance movements, are also less suitable to her introverted interpretations.

But there were memorable moments. The slow sarabandes were always very slow and very beautiful. Melodies opened up like flowers in stop-motion photography, enhanced by the gorgeous colors she wondrously elicited from the keyboard.

The Second Partita's Sinfonia had the resonance of pealing bells, enough so to make the organ behind her jealous. Dinnerstein found surprisingly witty character in the first gavotte of the English Suite. But given her propensity for deliberate tempos, she permitted few dances to dance. And once she set out on a movement, she tended to be predictable. Fast contrapuntal passages work for her much better on her close-miked recordings. In Segerstrom, details regularly got buried in her irrepressibly robust resonance.

The best came last. She ended with the First Partita, and in the final gigue, played with a Debussy-like tenderness, she simply drifted off into space.

Next time Dinnerstein comes to town, I hope she'll stop by one of our bookstores for an intimate recital. They could use the help. But so, maybe, could she.


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