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Simone Dinnerstein Joins Emmanuel Music at Tufts


It’s not often that I get a chance to hear two of my favorite piano concertos together with something entirely new. As Simone Dinnerstein presided at the piano, Emmanuel Music Orchestra’s run-out to the near-capacity Distler Hall at Tufts dished out Bach, Glass, and Mozart illustrated by video.

J. S. Bach’s Clavier Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052, in a nigh-flawless and triumphant performance, reminded many of us of its stature as one of the greatest works not only by Bach but of all time — notwithstanding that the BWV catalogue says that “its authenticity has been doubted.” At that, this favorite concerto might well have been an expansion and transformation from an earlier concerto for violin; there are imitations of open-string bariolage that imply as much; but nobody other than Bach could have written this magnificently idiomatic and keyboardistic journey through expressive harmony, tonal drama, and moto perpetuo sound. Bach wrote other keyboard concertos, including two for organ that he arranged from Vivaldi, but the only other work of his that compares with the D minor in virtuosity is the considerably lighter Fifth Brandenburg. Listen to the pedal-point moments in the first movement of the D minor, where the strings pause to let the solo sing forth, and you will hold your breath. Dinnerstein clung to these moments admirably, with minimal change of tempo or rubato, and with perfectly graduated dynamics. The second movement, a quiet right-hand cantilena, has a slowly soaring melody and poignantly placed accents and trills; the left hand doubles the melodic bass throughout. The finale motors as energetically as the first movement, or even more so, but its impetus comes from repeated anapest motives offsetting the continuous line.

Philip Glass delivered his Tirol Concerto (2000) to a commission from the Austrian government for its summer festival “Klangspuren” (on the trail of sound) in the Tyrol, and bases its three movements on Austrian folksong fragments. It shows Glass’s emergence from the mechanically minimalist styles of his earlier years (I glanced at some of these five weeks ago HERE), with a fondness for varied parallel triads without suspensions, Fauré-like harmonic shifts in relentless four-bar phrases, and a general lack of rhythm. Like Virgil Thomson’s folk-music style, it proceeds but doesn’t develop. In earlier years Glass often favored a motive of motive arpeggiating right-hand sextuplets: four notes up overlapping with four down. The second movement, the longest, which went on and on over a basic permutation of four G minor harmonies (i, VI, V, and VII with an occasional seventh); it featured a dialogue of block chords and up-and-down scales, over an oscillation of strings played almost entirely senza vibrato. The finale, in jazzy but steady 7/8, C major, romped with an occasional bouncy bass, very Louisville in sound without strung-out patterns, and a good time had by all.

The concert concluded with Mozart’s beloved 21st Piano Concerto, K. 467, in C Major. (I can’t seem to find Leopold Mozart’s letter in which he mentions that “Wolfgang has written a new concerto more difficult and more dissonant than any hitherto,” but I remember the aptness of the remark.) Dinnerstein went through this great work with all of the tenderness and aplomb it simultaneously requires. The large wind complement was well-attuned to the overall balance. The muted strings, in the “Elvira Madigan” slow movement, sounded perfectly warm and sensitive, even dreamlike, especially in those richly expressive cadential passages where the suspensions gnarl with each other. Dinnerstein gave a thoroughly convincing, vigorous and singing interpretation throughout. I have to say that I did not like the first-movement cadenzat; it was too sprawling, over-romanticized, and chromatically dubious; a cadenza that follows a C major six-four shouldn’t begin in A major. Maybe it’s naive to expect that in the 21st century a cadenza for an 18th-century concerto should at least make a stab at sounding 18th-century contemporary (as Beethoven did when he wrote his cadenzas for Mozart’s 20th concerto, composed the same year. The published cadenza by August Winding for K. 467 (Schirmer edition) isn’t very good; but I can highly recommend those by Robert Casadesus and Robert Levin. (I too have composed cadenzas for this concerto that aren’t too bad, have had performances in Europe, and are available on request.)

The Emmanuel Orchestra, long known for some Boston’s best-known freelance musicians, provided impeccable accompanimental sound during the entire evening; Ryan Turner, the conductor, barely visible in the muted lighting (dimmed for the projections), provided total leadership. I’m delighted to call out Peggy Pearson’s beautiful oboe. The brass made solid contributions without overdoing the enthusiasm.

The visually skillful and unquestionably pretty monochrome projections of catkins, dried leaves, or zircon necklaces, or colored Rorschach patterns by friend-of-the-artists Laurie Olinder, offered little beyond an annoying distraction; I want to see what the players are doing.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert on the music of Alban Berg, Debussy, and other early 20th-century composers. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (Ph.D., 1967), he has published on many music subjects, and edited the revised fourth (1978) and fifth (1987) editions of Harmony by his teacher Walter Piston.


7 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I have no complaints about the music; it was superb. However, I agree with you about the projected videos. I felt that they detracted from the overall experience. It also would have been nice to be able to glance at the program notes from time to time. As is typical in your reviews, much of what you wrote is esoteric and almost incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t studied music theory extensively. I do have one question for you. What do you mean by “very Louisville in sound?” I know that Louisville is a city in Kentucky. What does it have to do with orchestral or jazz music? Are you referring to a particular bouncy bass sound that originated in Louisville?

    Comment by Bennett — September 24, 2023 at 5:29 pm

  2. I would like to see more review and less extended descriptions of the compositions.

    The Bach was perfectly coordinated as if everyone was breathing together, one united being, flawless – you knew there was no chance of wrong notes or other slips. I enjoyed the Glass and Mozart as well. I hadn’t heard the Glass before and found it compelling – Simone Dinnerstein and the orchestra expressed a lot of emotion in what could have sounded like a more mechanical rendition. The Mozart was, in my opinion, enhanced by the unusual cadenzas. Along with the projections, they helped me hear a familiar piece in a new light.

    I have mixed feelings about the projections – they are gorgeous, but I did find it hard to pay attention to two intense experiences at the same time.

    This was my first live concert in forever, and it was great. Part of the reason is that the audience was so attentive! No phones going off, selfies, chatter, and so on. It reminded me of how wonderful a communal experience can be.

    Comment by Ara — September 24, 2023 at 8:58 pm

  3. I probably shouldn’t have written “Louisville,” remembering the more than 50 works commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra during their first modern period. Some who are my age might remember some of that sound. I could just as well have written “1950s Midwest.”

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — September 25, 2023 at 10:10 pm

  4. Cadenzas were composed by Busoni (for the reord)

    Comment by Donald Berman — September 26, 2023 at 10:46 am

  5. My first thought was “Louisville slugger?” I tried hard to connect musical sounds and baseball bats, but that led me to the wrong piano concerto (Ravel).
    I, for one, love the musical disquisitions in Mark’s reviews. Keep ‘em coming, Prof. DeVoto!

    Comment by Larry Hamberlin — September 27, 2023 at 10:30 am

  6. I’m intrigued by Ara’s comment that the audience was particularly attentive. I was not at the concert, but though I share the skepticism expressed above and in the review about using projections, I can’t help but wonder if they help put the audience into a more focused, attentive state. (Or sleepier but quieter state?)

    Comment by Michael Monroe — September 27, 2023 at 12:46 pm

  7. Ara There may have been no phones going off or chatter, but there was a constant noise throughout almost all of the first movement of the Bach, caused to the best of my knowledge by a hearing aid. The administrators did eventually track it down and correct the problem. Drones are fine for ragas, but detract from Bach lol.

    Comment by Bennett — September 28, 2023 at 11:29 am

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