Pianist Simone Dinnerstein Debuts Richard Danielpour’s Haunting, Guardedly Hopeful, Historic Lockdown-Themed New Suite
Imagine your doctor telling you that because you have asthma, odds are seventy percent that you won’t survive the seasonal flu.
That’s what composer Richard Danielpour‘s doctor told him in the early days of the lockdown. The good news is that Danielpour, along with hundreds of millions of other asthmatics, emerged alive. But during those grim months a year ago when so many citizens around the world had no idea if they’d ever be able to leave their homes without being shot, Danielpour was understandably distraught. He was able to find solace in Simone Dinnerstein‘s recordings of J.S. Bach – and, inspired by those albums, wrote a suite of his own for her
The result, American Mosaic, is streaming at Spotify. It’s a visceral, intensely focused attempt to transcend the psychological torture pretty much everyone endured before the science debunking the lockdowners’ terror propaganda came to light. Not only is this riveting and often haunting music, it’s important history.
A spare miniature, the first of four “consolations,” opens the suite: Dinnerstein plays it with guarded hope, but horror erupts at the end. She gives the brief second and longer third variations a muted woundedness, a clock-chime theme moving along steadily, yet with all sense of time being lost. The final one has somewhat more robust harmonies but also more of a funereal atmosphere, Dinnerstein leaving plenty of breathing room for both the somber lefthand and the slow parade overhead to linger, quietly but eventfully.
Part of the lockdowner agenda, of course, involved arbitrarily deciding who was “essential,” and who was not, a practice taken from the Nazi death camps where able-bodied workers were sometimes initially spared, and women, children and the elderly were sent to the gas chamber.
Danielpour dedicates several of the suite’s segments to groups of hardworking individuals, both essential and worthless by lockdowner standards, who kept the world going, Caretakers and research physicians get a chiming, purposeful intertwining theme. Parents and their kids bound around in a momentary distraction, as do documentary filmmakers, photographers, teachers and students: at least someone’s having fun here! Rabbis and ministers receive a resonant but enigmatically expectant, Debussy-esque salute.
Dinnerstein gets to revel in some precise but difficult boogie-woogie in a shout-out to writers, journalists and poets: thanks, guys! The closest thing to a love theme here is dedicated to doctors and interns, yet trouble lurks just outside. Prophets and martyrs are acknowledged soberly, in the suite’s most spacious, Satie-esque moment.
The visible enemy is portrayed as very calm and determined in the beginning, but this illuminati of clowns can’t get their story straight. To Danielpour, at the time, the invisible one was just as steady but more phantasmagorical: it’s the suite’s most chilling interlude. An Elegy For Our Time comes across as more of a wistful reminiscence of better days.
Dinnerstein winds up the record with three Danielpour transcriptions of Bach works: a gentle, cautiously prayerful take of the Agnus Dei from the Mass in B minor, a famous Aria theme from the St. Matthew Passion reinvented as a delicate dirge, and a more heroic yet carefully paced epilogue from that same suite. After all we’ve been through in the past year, the hope Danielpour alludes to here seems within our reach.