Although we think of Bach as the greatest organist-composer the world has known, the promising-looking Baroque-style organ at St. Paul’s Church Brookline brooded silently yesterday evening. Winsor Music instead paid tribute to the master through transcriptions of two familiar works and homages from grateful later composers. The guest appearance of the elegant and expressive pianist Simone Dinnerstein drew a full house to the resonant rebuilt sanctuary of bright-white walls and light wood trusses.
Listeners who know it, expect to hear the Trio Sonata in C Major S529 from a proficient organist who can master the three independent lines as a feat for the four limbs. But on this night oboist and Winsor-founder Peggy Pearson, whose breath control and command have lost nothing over the 40 years we have admired them, took the top line and assigned the lower two to Dinnerstein, who drew her patented gorgeous tones from the well-voiced parlor Steinway. Since the oboe is more dynamically flexible than the organ, Pearson endowed her part with an attractive vocal quality, prizing Bach’s melodic invention above his technical display. The opening Allegro flew by with peppery accents and wise phrasing from expert modern-instrument practitioners who can fit Bach for our time. Dinnerstein’s artful hesitations in the Largo unveiled sumptuous artistry to accompany Pearson in what sounded almost like a cantata aria. The final Allegro danced with Baroque drivetime lightness and smiles.
Sofia Gubaidulina’s Prelude No. 3 for Solo Cello (with mute / without mute), evoking Bach’s Sarabande in C Major from his Cello Suite No. 5, invites an assistant (Gabriela Diaz) to pluck notes the cellist is bowing simultaneously. The sanctuary rang most satisfyingly as Rafael Popper-Keizer dug in with intense yet exotic spiritualism over the three-minute span.
Diaz invited us to connect to Bach’s patterns and sequences as we listened to Philip Glass’s Pendulum. Casual listeners like repeated patterns that function like crumbs in pathways through forests of notes, leading them back to where the journey began. Dinnerstein and Diaz, now playing violin rather than plucking a cello, did their best to invest the schematics and riffs with varieties of affect, but even that investment did not draw this writer into Glassical rapture. If it had been a movie, we would have left after the opening titles. And yet Dinnerstein makes a committed advocacy. She and Diaz strode through the lively coda like Tatum and Grappelli, to the palpable pleasure of almost everyone else.
Two works titled Hommage á J.S.B. followed the break. Bartok’s, from Mikrokosmos Book Three, came across as an updated two-part invention for Diaz on violin and Rane Moore’s clarinet of about a minute’s duration. In György Kurtág’s tribute for solo violin, Diaz skittered about brightly, pleasurably, also for about one minute.
In between, Pearson and Popper-Keizer joined Dinnerstein for four numbers from Clara Schuman’s transcription of her spouse’s Six Studies in Canonic Form for Pedal Piano, Pearson playing the violin part on her oboe d’amore. We know these works in their original form, having built a pedal piano on which Peter Sykes delivered them to a Harvard Musical Association crowd a couple of decades ago—and we prefer them in that form. [Listen HERE to Peter Sykes play no. 4 (Innig). He wore Gold Toe socks to allow the greatest subtlety of footwork, and the degree to which he conveyed dynamic and rhythmic variances from the printed page raised human intercession to the divine]. The equality of the voices, when they are all on the keyboard, gives a player the chance to make her case without compromise. Furthermore, as in the trio sonata which started the program, that player can strut his stuff. Clara’s transcription doesn’t provide enough notes to make it useful as an etude for improving trio technique, yet it does make for gemütlich collaboration. Robert’s original is so pleasing, and the pedal piano such a rare instrument, that the Studies and the companion Four Sketches for Pedal Piano have inspired many transcriptions, including a two-piano version by Debussy and a four-hand version by Bizet.
The selections began with No. 2, Mit innigen Ausdruck, taken more slowly than would work on the piano. Dare I say plodding? No. 3, Etwas schneller, bounced with impetus. No. 5, Nicht zu schnell, missed some of the syncopated interplay so enjoyable with two hands and pedal; it sounded risk-free, and not really smiling either. No. 6, an adagio, also showed slack relaxation, but the canonic “Clara” exclamations did tear at the heart.
We have nothing but thanks to Rane Moore for displacing the title instrument in Bach’s Sonata for Viola da Gamba in D Major, S1028, in Richard Stoltzman’s arrangement for clarinet and piano. Dinnerstein employed Glenn Gouldian coloristic effects with her own inimitable fluttering damper pedal; her clear but rounded articulations and a broad concept of phrase and moment also gave great pleasure.
After the generously felt opening Adagio, the Allegro, the most woke movement of the evening, bounded into our hearts and even raised our eyebrows: the serpentine lines interlocked and relaxed like a living caduceus. Moore achingly voiced the heavenly Andante, summoning Brahms and Mühlfeld. Dinnerstein supported with a limpid sensibility. Using the registers of the clarinet like manuals of the organ, Moore traversed the final Allegro with winning enthusiasm. Dinnerstein’s voicings glistened. The impetuous yet mature connections among players, composer, arranger, and audience left us deeply pleased.
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer