IN: Reviews

Dinnerstein’s “Undersong” Enlightens


Newport Classical presented pianist Simone Dinnerstein Thursday at The Breakers, telling less of artist and venue than of playing, she programmed “…musical forms that have a refrain,” she told us, continuing, “Undersong is an archaic term for a song with a refrain, and to me it also suggests a hidden text.” Inquiry appears at the heart of this pianist’s semantics, uncovering the innerness of refrains and more. While curators these days re-imagine how people experience history from historic sites, this best-selling recording artist can be seen actually playing alone out-of-doors and in candlelit spaces at Green-Wood Cemetery, even investigating different instruments [HERE].  Until recently, the Brooklyn national monument near her home had remained another “hidden” objective.

She also posed in her introductory program message, “This is music to get lost in.” To that end, Couperin bumped against Schumann, who ran into Glass, who seamlessly merged into another Couperin to create another level of refrain. After intermission, likewise, a non-stop Satie-Schumann-Couperin hike, here, the same Couperin that started it all, ended it all as an encore.  

Dinnerstein keyed Francois Couperin’s Les Barricades Mysterieuses, seeking its refrains as in an early period of development―say that of a middle school-aged child. She played with freedom in timing along with a fascination for Baroque’s cadential embellishments. Harmonic expressiveness in the couplets suggested her finding both respect and enchantment in both rondeau and couplet, equally. One hardly wonders what Couperin’s direction, vivement, might have meant to her apparent youthful inquiry.      

With Robert Schumann’s often-played Arabesque (op. 18) emerged a rarer fondness. By her own scrolling through the patterned linearities of a composer whose declining mental health is well-known to us, Dinnerstein insightfully brought musical joys that tranquilized the mind. An endearing sweetness, so much a part of her thinking, came to light in the very last refrain. Moving from refrains to keyboards, there may be interest in hearing her access Op. 18 on the Celviano Grand Hybrid, an electronic keyboard from Casio [HERE].

For refrains running truly minimally and over longer spans, Mad Rush (1979) by Phillip Glass has also caught the ear of scores of pianists, not to mention scores more of attuned listeners. Unhiding the industrialized repetitions on the pages of Mad Rush, Dinnerstein incredibly lifted it out of a minimalist stare. For Glass “couplets,” themselves refrains, she shunned balance. A lower roaring left hand overtaking the right hand, later gave way to the higher whizzing of the musical machine. In the calmer frames of Mad Rush, Dinnerstein clearly shifted melodic cycles, inquiring into this note or that, most noticeably a “daring” note the composer drew from the past (lowered sixth degree, beloved tone of barbershop ilk).  

A direct sightline to the keyboard unblocked Couperin’s devilish Tic Toc Choc originally designed for two manuals. Arriving on the tails of the Mad Rush, Dinnerstein’s idea was clear by casting this Couperin as a finale to her first set. From Glass calm to Couperin rush, she made the required interlocking hands an easy romp at the Yamaha concert grand—and the returning rondeau with its intervening couplets, blinding. 


Of Erik Satie’s idiosyncratic directions for Gnossienne No. 3, “Ouvrez la tête,” (Open the head) coming on the last page of its numerous refrains, best fits Dinnerstein’s thesis. Here, perhaps, we hear an advanced student exposing truth, this inquiry raising the question of degree of distance separating pianist and composer: free expressiveness overwhelming statuesque refrains.

Further unlocking the mood swings of the manic Florestan and depressive Eusibius created in Kreisleriana proved challenging, given the integrity of a superb musician coupled with the acoustic envelope the Breakers offered as a concert space. With Schumann’s novel-length Op. 16―eight chapters, refrains, and more―came the excitement of discovery, the exhilaration of enlightenment, rewarding the somewhat fogged and fatigued ears of this devotee.

Newport Classical Music Festival runs through July 23rd.  

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

Comments Off on Dinnerstein’s “Undersong” Enlightens