The esteemed pianist Simone Dinnerstein returned to the Maverick Concert Hall Saturday to open the 107th season of the indomitable Sunday chamber music festival. A happy and heartening occasion, it marked the opening of the first full season since Covid cancelled such undertakings.
Dinnerstein offered heartfelt and beautifully curated works by François Couperin, Satie, Schumann, and Glass. She deployed the charm of the French Baroque to prepare for two featured works, long, highly emotional set pieces by Schumann. Her “Undersong: Exploration, Transformation, Refrain,” considered and explored the notions of circularity, cycles, and repetition. Dinnerstein performed with her wonted thoughtfulness and approachable brilliance, pulling together a slate spanning 300 years.
Dinnerstein’s choices included a number of curiosities, starting with Couperin’s enchanted Barricades Mystérieuses, a captivating mystery that she used as a prelude to Schumann’s Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18. She drew the audience along, moving directly, without pausing for applause, from Couperin to Schumann. By the time she was ready to enter the complexities of the Arabesque, we were entirely ready to go there with her. And Schumann’s intricacies provided the perfect preparation for the seductive minimalism of Philip Glass’s 1979 Mad Rush. Dinnerstein executed this masterpiece of understatement with unswerving constancy, setting the stage for Schumann’s “Kreisleriana.”
The pianist rounded out the first half with another character piece by Couperin, Le Tic Toc Choc, ou Les Maillotins. This attractive little work recalls the ticking of a clock and, for some mysterious reason, at the same time, either a jersey sweater, or a swimsuit, or a tightrope walker. In any case, it formed a suitable coda to the Arabesque. Crisply and clearly, she executed all the little embellishments—the mordents and turns and passing tones—with elegance and beguiling flair.
On the glorious afternoon, a soft breeze rustled through the surrounding woods. During the Mad Rush a small yellow and black spider descended carefully from the eaves of the barn distracted us.
After the intermission, Dinnerstein reset the stage with Satie’s Gnossienne No. 3 (another mysterious bibelot), preparing the way for Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Her reading exhilarated with mood swings and switchbacks. It grabbed our attention with the demanding burst of arpeggios that opened the first movement, Äußerst Bewegt, (Extremely Moving). At the end, the last movement, Schnell und Spielend, (Quickly and Playfully), her agreeable virtuosity moved us away from the moodiness and changeability of the earlier movements into what is almost a coda, a heartbreaker, an uneven, unsteady but unflinching traipse toward the unknown.
The effect of the repertoire and the attaca presentation left us with the impression of hearing two large suites of numerous movements.
The Maverick audience, as always, demanded an encore, and Dinnerstein provided the perfect ending to a very moving program, a repeat of its opening gesture, Les Barricades Mystérieuses played straight through, without repeats, a fitting summation and postscript to all that came before.