Customer Reviews: The Berlin Concert
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HALL OF FAMEon August 26, 2008
Barely more than six months after Simone Dinnerstein's triumphant debut at the Berlin Philharmonie - the modern concert hall which is the official residence of the Berliner Philharmoniker - Telarc has issued her sophomore recording, "The Berlin Concert", and one which is bound to please her ever growing legion of fans (of which I am now one). In a performance that is approximately an hour and fifteen minutes in length, Dinnerstein offers some fascinating insights into works composed across the span of three centuries by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and contemporary American composer Philip Lasser, playing each as though they were being heard by the audience for the very first time. What unites these works by these three different composers is their joyful spontaneity and tendency towards almost jazz-like improvisation; Bach's French Suite No. 5 in G major, Lasser's Twelve Variations on a Chorale by J. S. Bach "Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott" (Cantata 101), and Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111. In her performance of the Bach French Suite, Dinnerstein emphasizes - as she notes in the liner notes - its exquisite dance rhythms and spontaneity. In Lasser's work, her playing, while also sounding spontaneous, ranges from Bach's "contrapuntal energy" to brief nods to both French Impressionism and jazz too. As for jazz itself, Dinnerstein's performance of the final Beethoven piano sonata's second movement is light years removed from the elegant simplicity of, say, Alfred Brendel; hers is one which, unlike others I have heard either live or on recordings, truly emphasizes the improvisational, almost jazz-like, qualities of this very movement (Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile). It is still a quite compelling interpretation that holds its own against the likes of Brendel and Uchida, among others. A brief encore, Bach's Goldberg Variations: Variation 13, concludes this most remarkable recording. If anyone has doubted whether Simone Dinnerstein is a first-rate concert pianist, then this exhilarating live recording should dispel such doubts.
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on February 21, 2010
I just wrote my review of Dinnerstein's Goldberg Variations, having all but worn out that disc over the year or so I have had it in my collection. I don't do a lot of reviewing, and though Dinnerstein these days most deservedly just seems to rake in the praise of newspapers and music magazines alike - her last major scalp being the Diapason d'Or of September 2008 (which isn't exactly a plate of p...) - and as such shouldn't need my help, here we go again. The repression of urges is always a dangerous thing!

As noted by many before me, two words that immediately leap to mind when trying to describe Dinnerstein's playing style on this live recording from Berlin, are meditation and jazz. If you are a fan of Gould's treatment of Bach - and who isn't to some degree? - it seems difficult to imagine the French Suites responding well to that approach, but: "think again" is all I can say. In Dinnerstein's sensitive yet miraculously nimble hands these seven charming dances drop their masks of carefree entertainment and put on their philosopher's hats instead, showing us the darkly smouldering Sarabande, the mischievous Gavotte and the quirky Loure in a new and interesting light. The Gigue is almost always done well, but here for the first time I all but seem to sense Scott Joplin impatiently waiting round the corner; no small achievement at that. I'm fairly certain that Bach never played his fifth suite like this - and he wouldn't have had the piano to do it either - but it certainly works for me and just goes to prove that there is indeed "several ways to swing a cat" (we don't skin them where I come from).

Though no small piece in itself the variations by Philip Lasser, wonderfully played with all the baroque gravitas and lightfooted jazziness you could wish for, become very much the tangy granité before the plat de resistance that is the 32nd sonata by Beethoven. Never an easy piece to bring off in public because of its combined technical difficulty and intellectual scope, Dinnerstein digs into the Allegro con brio with all the granite resolution of a Richter (Beethoven never pussyfoots!), and - though it isn't supposed to matter and consequently always does - what a pleasure to not hear one wrong note in that legendary minefield of music. Artur Rubinstein used to joke about the ingratitude of audiences: "Why is it that if you play more than 30% wrong notes during a recital, some cantankerous individual always seems to want his money back". No risk of that here! It takes a Bach interpreter of some standing to play the Arietta as it deserves to be played, but without a profound understanding of Beethoven-the-idealist and Beethoven-the-crank it just won't work. Fortunately, here as elsewhere, Dinnerstein can hold her own, and she delivers an epic journey that rivals Serkin (Rudolf!) and Pollini at their best.

The Goldberg encore, as good as it was on her previous disc and a fitting meditation to end the evening, concludes another 75 minutes of Dinnerstein magic ... and what can I say: acquiring this disc is money well spent, even if you don't really have it to spend. May the wait for Dinnerstein's next issue - on disc *smile* - be mercifully short.
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on June 19, 2009
With Simone Dinnerstein's new release on Telarc, the slick attempt to spice up every last bit of her bio includes even the CD's title: "Simone Dinnerstein, THE BERLIN CONCERT". There are a few pianists who have had a "The Berlin Concert". (Evgeni Kissin's debut under Karajan at the 1988 New Year's concert was one such event.) "The Berlin Concert" has a tempting ring to it. It comes with connotations of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - which wasn't anywhere near Ms. Dinnerstein then or since. And how easily does "at the Berlin Philharmonie" (Chamber Music Hall) become "with the Berlin Philharmonic" in subsequent retellings.

"The Berlin Concert" also insinuates that it was a big event with hints of red carpet, columns of searchlights left and right, and critics in eager anticipation at the vast 2440 seat Philharmonie. Whether quite that much attention was given in Berlin's 1180 seat *Kammermusiksaal* (admittedly adjacent to the Philharmonic Hall), is questionable.

Well, better than harping on the finer points of "Recital" vs. "Concert", let's listen - by way of skipping the artist's vacuous liner notes - to what the music has to say, which is, these introductory words notwithstanding, the ultimate arbiter of a CD's value.

She opens with Bach's French Suite No.5 in G major, which is in keeping with her Goldberg Variation success that brought her from `giglets' in nursing homes to the concertizing limelight. Whenever she plays Bach, for better or worse, I can't help thinking that it's taken from - or belongs on - a "Bach for Babies" or "Lullabies for Lovers" CD. The wallowing style has its appeal, but I'm not sure I'm proud of whatever part in me it is that this appeals to. Perhaps the one that would like to play piano itself, to indulge in pianistic exaggeration, the part that would like to underline everything already in italics and put in parentheses whatever is in small fonts. Ultimately I find the ostentation of her mannerisms, the caressing, and rhythmic freewheeling more detriment than their superficial seduction a benefit. Recent recordings by Gulda and especially Till Fellner show that less is (much) more.

There is even less I can recommend in the performance of Beethoven's last Piano Sonata, op.111. If this is "the last classical piano sonata", not just Beethoven's, but the Omega of its genre - as Adorno, via Thomas Mann via Wendell Kretschmar would have it - Dinnerstein sure doesn't make a case for it. There is nothing of the patrician heaping of music upon music that Arrau brings to this, nothing of the crystalline, tight-lipped energy of (early!) Serkin, and certainly no hint of the momentous vertical struggle and intellectual rigor that Pollini, in one of his greatest recordings, has achieved. Worse yet: there is nothing that Dinnerstein has to offer in place of any of these qualities; just the notes, played efficiently and with mechanical accomplishment.

So far it sounds like this CD would already be in my `discard' pile. Instead I will file it under "L", and regard it highly. Because centre-recital Dinnerstein plays Philip Lasser's Twelve Variations on a Chorale by J.S. Bach. And that's what you will want to hear. The chorale is "Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott" from Cantata BWV 101 and the forty-six year young Lasser, who is a member of the faculty at Juilliard, finds 12 ways to vary this that are typical of his style which simply calling "neo-romantic" would be rather too simple. It's part of a new, bold melodiousness that is inoculated against the accusation of kitsch or triteness through sheer quality and originality. Lasser, and a very select few other composers, manage to write music that can be immediately established as new, yet uses means that have been part of the composer's toolkit for a hundreds of years. More graphically: Those who like the `music' of John Rutter, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, or John Williams will find Lasser equally appealing as those who can't control their gag reflex at the very mention of those composers' drivel.

Best of all, Dinnerstein's essentially romantic, eagerly pleasing style, coupled with her technical faculty, not only allows the Lasser to shine, it positively contributes to it. Bach provides the structure, Lasser's perennial French air absorbs Dinnerstein's floweriness, and the audible 21st century, modern touch assures the whole concoction stays lean and clean.

Consider the Bach and Beethoven on this disc the packaging; the former of which may well conform to many a listener's taste more than to mine, the latter which probably can't be helped. The Lasser is the center of this musical tootsie roll and it's worth getting there, no matter how many licks it takes.

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Barely three stars for Bach; barely two for Beethoven, but five for Lasser. That makes for 3.33 stars which I'll round up because in this case the value of the CD is more defined by what's best on it than by what's worst. As for the breathless praise found in other Amazon comments: De gustibus. It depends on what type of listener you are and chances are you know which category you'll fall into.
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on August 25, 2014
I love Bach and was excited to get this album after hearing Simone's rendition of the French Suite on our local classical radio station. Tracks 1 to 7 were brilliant and exciting. But then tracks 8 to 21 were awful and it turns out that they were a different composer and not my cup of tea. Tracks 21 and 22 are Beethoven and finally track 23 is Bach and wonderful again. So that means that 2/3 of this CD is not playable for me and I'm very disappointed. If you love Bach or like Simone's playing, it's best to download tracks 1 to 7 and 23 and forget the rest.
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on August 26, 2008
This is a beautiful recording, Simone Dinnerstein's renderings of the Bach French Suite and the Opus 111 of Beethoven are altogether perfect, with fine musical judgment and finesse. To point out just one track, the Gavotte of the French Suite was delightfully cheery, remaining adult while fleetly avoiding the trap of "cuteness". My only doubt in pre-ordering this CD was whether the contemporary Variations by Philip Lasser would stand up in such august company. I'm glad to report that the Lasser made me happy; it is musical and skillful in its echoes of Bach and impressionism both. I am pleased to have this recording join Dinnerstein's Goldberg Variations on my music shelf.
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on May 13, 2013
Outstanding performance and recording quality. One of the most musical and technically proficient young artist working in the classical field today.
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on April 30, 2013
Great music, fine pianist. This is a great recording. The selection is very nice and the technique is sensitive. Really.
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on October 21, 2012
One of the most beautiful renditions I've heard of Bach. I gave the CD to a friend who is an accomplished pianist and she was moved to tears. Lovely.
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on September 2, 2009
I am not a musician; I only enjoy good performances from what I deem to be technically competent professionals. Simone Dinnerstein is at the top of my list for listening to piano because the sounds are crisp, clear and full in my limited mind's eye.
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on March 18, 2014
She is a masterful artist and I love listening to her interpretations. It is too short though. More selections would have been better for me.
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