Dinnerstein shows elegant artistry with Frost Symphony Orchestra

By Dave Rosenbaum

Simone Dinnerstein performed Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with Thomas Sleeper and the Frost Symphony Orchestra Saturday night.

Simone Dinnerstein performed Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 with Thomas Sleeper and the Frost Symphony Orchestra Saturday night.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of the times we’re living in, but rarely has the contrast between dark and light, pessimism and optimism, seemed as poignant as it did Saturday night at Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables.

But it’s likely that pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s elegant performance of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor would have made this performance moving under any circumstances.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Dinnerstein became an international sensation in 2007 for her self-produced, chart-topping recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Saturday, her playing of the Brahms concerto was thoughtful without being ponderous, always favoring clarity over theatrics and capturing the lyricism of this expansive work. 

The immediate sense of gloom and despair in the opening movement, developed by the entire string section and the winds, was lifted when Dinnerstein entered for the first time. Her warm, delicate tone was like a sunlit dawn after a stormy night.

Dinnerstein puts great care into every note, yet there was no lack of emotion in her playing. In the impassioned Adagio, Dinnerstein’s sweet sound rose serenely above the orchestra. Her virtuosity, never showy, was apparent in the rapid-fire opening of the third movement and the exciting final cadenza.

Her airy, gorgeous tone blended well with the Frost Symphony Orchestra’s rich, dark lower strings and noble woodwinds. Brahms’ First Piano Concerto is less a showpiece for piano than a dialogue between soloist and orchestra, with the symphony playing a big part in any performance’s success. 

The FSO students were admirable collaborators throughout. Ominous lower strings followed by meditative piano is a device Brahms utilizes many times in this concerto. Conductor Thomas Sleeper’s decision to use all nine of his double-bass players paid immediate dividends, adding weight to the movement’s opening minutes. 

Except for some unfocused entrances in the final movement, the winds and brass were well-shaped and precise, particularly the clarinets, bassoons and flutes. The coda was propulsive yet kept under a firm and respectful hand by Sleeper, who never allowed the orchestra to cover the soloist. The only real downside was a crying baby during the third movement.

Sleeper’s tight control of the orchestra was especially obvious in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 on the program’s second half. The orchestra proved it was up to the works’ dramatic demands from the outset with pulsating timpani, shining strings, descending winds and a well-articulated flute solo.

Sleeper kept the emotional momentum at a high level, even in the slower passages. Ensemble strings were dependable and wind solos, particularly the clarinet, were carefully and beautifully shaped. Trombones were bold with a sense of urgency. 

In the third movement, the orchestra seemed to be on the verge of falling apart with repeated intonation problems. But it recovered impressively in the energetic fourth movement and brought the evening to a blazing, impassioned conclusion.

Thomas Sleeper conducts the Frost Symphony Orchestra in music of William Schuman, James Stephenson and Richard Moriarty 8 p.m. February 10 at Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables. music.miami.edu305-284-2400.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment

Mon Nov 14, 2016
at 1:49 pm
No Comments